Sunday, July 15, 2018

Dave Liebman, Anthony Jackson, Mike Stern - 2007 "Back on the Corner"

It's only been in the past decade that the electric music of the late Miles Davis has been re-explored, attaining more widespread credibility and acceptance. It's turning out to be a matter of catching up with an icon that, through the many phases of his career, was often ahead of his time. Like so many others, saxophonist Dave Liebman only played with the trumpet legend for a brief period, but he acknowledges its significant effect. Back on the Corner explores that impact in the most personal of ways.
Liebman played on Davis' On the Corner (Legacy, 1972)—a dense album that, with its repetitive grooves and flat-out sonic assaults, was one of the trumpeter's most audacious and controversial recordings. Augmenting his current quartet with two guests—guitarist (and Davis alumnus) Mike Stern and electric contrabassist Anthony Jackson—Liebman has expanded his sonic capabilities, but the overall approach is filled with a space and, at times, calm rarely heard in Miles' mid-'70s music.

Unlike other tributes, there's no trumpet here, and the emphasis is on original material. The studio versions of the two Davis tracks Liebman has selected are ones that he didn't perform on record, though he did play them in performance. "Black Satin" rocks as hard as Miles ever did, but breathes more in the process; "IFE" is a slower, greasier take where Vic Juris once again demonstrates his remarkable versatility and incomprehensible position as one of jazz's most undervalued guitarists.

Liebman may be known for his fiery intensity—and he delivers plenty of it on tracks like the swinging "5th Street" and Latin-esque "New Mambo," where, following an equally powerful solo from Stern, he goes it alone with drummer Marko Marcinko before the rest of the group gradually re-enters. Both tracks also point to Liebman as a writer of greater detail. There's ample solo space throughout the album and a strong emphasis on groove. But Liebman writes more clearly delineated heads, which provide a greater focal point for the rest of the group.

Perhaps the biggest revelation is "Bela," a tranquil, classically informed tone poem that features a lyrical bass solo from Tony Marino and some elegant tradeoffs between Stern and Juris. The reference to Miles may appear subtle given the time period when Liebman worked with him, but Miles always respected spare economy and classicism. "Bela" is one of the most vulnerable and fragile pieces Liebman has every written, though the tenuous groove of "Mesa D'Espana" is a close second.

What makes Back on the Corner special is its avoidance of literal homage. Instead, Liebman demonstrates the very particular effect that Miles had on him in ways that may require a little searching. Liebman has always spoken with his own voice, but dig deep into Miles, and Liebman's respect on Back on the Corner becomes crystal clear.

While listening to saxophonist Dave Liebman's 2007 release, Back on the Corner, it's pretty darn hard not to think of Miles Davis' groundbreaking early-'70s fusion period. And there are obvious reasons for this: firstly, Liebman actually played with Davis at one point (appearing on Davis' 1973 release, On the Corner), another Davis sideman plays throughout the album (guitarist Mike Stern), and lastly, two of the compositions were penned by Davis himself. Joining Liebman and Stern is renowned sessionman Anthony Jackson on contrabass, plus Liebman's own band of the last 15 years (bassist Tony Marino, guitarist Vic Juris, and drummer Marko Marcinko). And the group admirably replicates the sound and feel of all those classic fusion releases of the early '70s (no Spyro Gyra-esque blahness here), especially on the aforementioned Davis-penned tracks, "Ife" and the downright funky "Black Satin," as well as the laid-back album opener, "5th Street," and another funk workout, the properly titled "J.B. Meets Sly." If you think that vintage-sounding fusion is dead and gone circa the early 21st century, Dave Liebman's Back on the Corner should change your mind.

Saxophonist Dave Liebman started his 18-month tenure with Miles Davis in 1972 by recording tracks for On the Corner, the trumpeter’s nod to funk artists James Brown and Sly & the Family Stone. On Back on the Corner, Liebman revisits the spirit of that oft-debated recording without rehashing it track by track, and gets ample support from guitarist (and fellow Miles alum) Mike Stern and bassist Anthony Jackson.

The guest stars’ contributions are matched by Liebman’s 15-year-old working band of guitarist Vic Juris, bassist Tony Marino and drummer Marko Marcinko. They propel Stern’s epic solo on an energized “Black Satin,” the lone track from On the Corner. The other Davis composition, the strutting “Ife,” features Liebman’s soprano darting around Juris’ chiming chords and Marino’s Chapman stick.

All other compositions are by Liebman, and they cover several different musical corners. “5th Street” opens the CD with surprising tranquility, a stark contrast to the 20-minute “On the Corner” medley that led off the album that inspired this one. Marcinko’s drum solo segues into “New Mambo,” an odd-timed showcase for the interplay between Stern’s guitar and Liebman’s tenor. Juris’ acoustic guitar interlude leads into the moody “Mesa D’Espana,” which features Liebman on soprano and wooden flute. Only the closing “J.B. Meets Sly/5th Street Reprise” recalls the hyperactive funk of On the Corner. Lesser artists might have tried to predictably recreate that disc verbatim, but Liebman proves that he learned a valuable lesson during those 18 months: Doing the expected was never Miles’ style, either.

Track Listing:

1. 5th Street
2. Ife
3. Bass Interlude
4. Black Satin
5. Bela
6. Drum Interlude
7. New Mambo
8. Acoustic Guitar Interlude
9. Mesa D’Espana
10. Electric Guitar Interlude
11. J.B. Meets Sly/5th Street Reprise

Personnel:

Dave Liebman: tenor and soprano saxophones, piano, synthesizer, wooden flute;
Mike Stern: electric guitar;
Anthony Jackson: contrabass guitar;
Vic Juris: electric and acoustic guitar;
Tony Marino: acoustic, electric and stick bass;
Marko Marcinko: drums, percussion.

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