Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Sum of its Parts: Contact's Five On One

Sometimes playing music isn’t about proving anything or making a social statement, it can just as much be about ebb and flow and being sensitive to the emotional nuances asked for by the composer. For jazz musicians, particularly as they age, it is less about ego and more about listening and contributing to the larger, musical picture. For Contact, a new band led by American Dave Liebman, the whole is definitely the sum of the parts.

Five On One is a new album of music featuring Liebman on soprano and tenor saxophones, John Abercrombie on guitar, Marc Copland on piano, Drew Gress on Bass and the remarkable Billy Hart on drums. Recorded in two days last January, Five On One is a sonic pleasure to the ears. The blend of sound is strong here because each musician is listening hard to what their fellow players are doing and having great ears, as I’ve written before, is the real key to making great music. The album opens with a very simple, yet direct 2-bar lick by Abercrombie called, "Sendup." But as usual (with the wry Abercrombie humour) the music is anything but parody. It’s a framework for the players to improvise and draw the listener in and it works immediately.

Marc Copland’s “Childmoon Smile” is a sweet, introspective number in 6/8. This tune is immediately followed by the free-jazz track, "Four On One," written by Abercrombie. Just when you thought the band would lull you into another place, it grabs you and wakes you up to the immediacy of the moment. The interplay on this piece is great, ending on a humorous note, or should I say, notes. Billy Hart contributes one composition, "Lullaby For Imke," which was written five years ago for his regular quartet. It’s a ballad that floats in the air with warm abandon. In fact, this debut recording is really about exploring new musical territory with a firm foot in the great tradition of improvised music. (Hart and Liebman were members of an under recognized band called Quest.) Again the goal here is to not get in anyone’s way, but to let the music flow from the heart. Five On One closes with a nice take on the standard, "You and the Night and the Music," an appropriate number considering the nature of the band and the sounds it wants to create. Five On One proves without a doubt that some musicians, particularly in jazz, get better with age.

- John Corcelli is an actor, writer, musician and theatre director.

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