In A Mellow Tone
was recorded in 2001, just before Dave Liebman’s group of ten years disbanded when drummer Jamey Haddad left. Credit is due to Zoho Records for recognizing the value of the recording and finally releasing it, better later than never. Appropriately titled, In A Mellow Tone
offers a quieter, more mellow sensibility than some of Liebman’s past work, ever inventive. Moreover, though Liebman has regularly played soprano sax in many past projects and he does so on some of the tracks on this CD as well Liebman often explores the darker tones of the tenor sax. For instance, In A Mellow Tone,
while paying tribute to the Ellington classic, does
adopt a mellow tone as Liebman reharmonizes the tune, removes the swing and injects a more pensive mood, altering the song’s most memorable phrase through reworked intervals that lead into more haunting chord changes than Ellington originally imagined. Guitarist Vic Juris’ "Chance Of Rain" attains the same dampened moodiness in sometimes rubato, sometimes three-four form through dark hues of a minor key, slippery tonal movement and shimmering soundscapes accented by Haddad’s rolling cymbals.
On the other hand, Liebman and Juris show their total understanding of the other’s ideas when they play in unison on their scampering version of "Wow," a tribute to Liebman’s early teacher, Lennie Tristano. Though concise, "Wow" moves rapidly along rippling lines pointillistically sketching the outlines of melody before the abrupt conclusion, the listener being the one who’s wowed by their ability to play so completely in tandem.
Filling out the variety of styles that his band explored, "The Sun King" days features Liebman’s wooden flute and Haddad’s Hadgini drum, simulating Badal Roy’s tabla from Liebman’s Lookout Farm band, as they rework his piece from the 1970’s which investigates spiritual connection to deities, and thus the nature of the world’s cultures. And Liebman goes beyond the song’s gigantic popularity to clarify the beauty of the theme from Titanic,
"My Heart Will Go On," with yet more reharmonization and a purity of expression on soprano sax.
No doubt, Liebman’s recordings will go on as well, even as he reconfigures his band into new shapes and voices and even as he records on new labels necessitated by the exigencies of the entertainment industry. But In A Mellow Tone
while marking the final dissolution of The Dave Liebman Group, its first shrinking occurring when pianist Phil Markowitz left in 1997 enriches the palette of Liebman’s music with the use of lighter movement and darker textures made possible by the instrumentation at that time.