Alto saxophonist and composer Libby Richman's abilities are easily seen in her winning two Meet the Composer grants and one New England Foundation on the Arts grant. Originally from Indiana, she earned her degree from the University of Massachusetts and now lives and works in the New York area. Among the artists she has worked with include The Duprees, The Earls, Leslie Gore, The Guy Lombardo Orchestra, Martha Reeves and The Shirelles. Open Strings is Richman's third release as a leader.
Of the nine straight-ahead jazz tracks on this disc, eight were composed by Richman. The most compelling thing about her compositions is the light and bouncing nature they all display. For example, "The Day After" is a delightful mid-tempo romp, "Bop Number 6" has a light and airy mid-tempo melody that is very appealing, and "Step Lightly" is a two-beat piece that would not have sounded out of place in late 1940s New York clubs.
On this recording Richman is joined, on three tracks, by her husband, tenor saxophonist John Philpott. The two often play together and their mutual empathy is bespoken by their easy rapport. They easily match each other's phrasing and articulative quality when playing melodies together, such as the up tempo swinger "Lullaby Of The Leaves."
Others on the album include bassist Fred Weidenhammer, drummer Stephen Little and percussionist Mark Katsaounis. It is, however, guitarist Bruce Edwards who shines the brightest. His perfectly voiced chordal comping behind both soloists and melodies is always rife with delight. Never over-filling the chords with useless notes, he always finds just the right combination of notes to make each saxophone soloist, or each of the delightful melodies, sound in just the right light. As a soloist he is deeply tied to the rhythm, and even when he takes off into some foreign harmonic areas he is still able to lock those concepts into the rhythmic scheme, as is best seen during his solo on "Lullaby Of The Leaves."
Richman is a New York veteran who has played at a wide number of the best clubs in New York. Her improvised solos are spun directly out from the melodies she writes, always aiming to play pretty melodies during her solos. While she doesn't venture far afield with her harmonic concepts, her solos still have a charm to them.
If there is a problem with this recording it lies in the tuning. Richman is, at times, slightly out of tune when playing in lower registers, and sometimes she and Philpott are not exactly in tune with each other when playing unison melodies. This is, however, a small complaint.