Michael Stephans, David Liebman, Marc Copland, Drew Gress: Quartette Oblique (Sunnyside)
Opening the album, Liebman launches the familiar opening phrases of “Nardis” from his tenor saxophone, toying with them, letting each note fall away. The rhythm section soon joins him. Within seconds the toying is over and the album’s muscles are rippling in a show of strength that for more than an hour does not recede, regardless of tempo. The energy is in great part due to Liebman’s intensity on tenor and soprano saxophones, but drummer Stephans, pianist Copland and bassist Gress are in league with him through every track. The quartet’s responses to one another are instantaneous. Their empathy is deep, almost palpable. The audience at the Deer Head Inn in Pennsylvania’s Poconos Mountains is so attentive that the quality of their listening becomes a part of the room’s atmosphere.
The album rewards close listening to its two Miles Davis pieces, “Nardis” and “So What,” but also to the late guitarist John Abercrombie’s “Vertigo,” and Duke Ellington’s “In a Sentimental Mood.” Gress enhances the contemplativeness of his composition “Vesper” with a bass solo that elevates the thoughtful mood. Copland’s shimmering piano on the piece melds into Liebman’s quiet, deep, improvisation on tenor, as opposed to the controlled frenzy that he generates on tenor and soprano sax elsewhere in this rewarding album. Nowhere is he more contained or, by contrast, more expansive, than in Dietz and Schwartz’s imperishable 84-year-old “You And The Night And The Music.” The piece highlights a quartet album that is itself a highlight.
As always music arrives daily, seemingly by the truckload. It would be impossible to hear it all. Nonetheless, additional reports on selected Recent Listening are soon to come.