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The University of Hartford

David Liebman, The Elements: Water
Arkadia Jazz
Charles Lloyd, Voice in the Night
ECM Records
Pete McCann, Parable
Palmetto Records
By Chuck Obuchowski

    These recordings share the same basic instrumentation: saxophone, guitar, bass and drums. The music world has changed immeasurably since Sonny Rollins featured Jim Hall on the benchmark sax/guitar album, The Bridge, in 1962. Who then could have envisioned the guitar revolution that lay ahead? The innovations of Hendrix--and subsequent technological advances--have forever changed how we hear the instrument. All three guitarists on these sessions—Pat Metheny, John Abercrombie and Pete McCann—have found very individual voices through intrepid experimentation with the ever-expanding electronic possibilities of their axes. They also realize that the "unplugged" version still holds great expressive possibilities for improvisers.
    David Liebman takes full advantage of Metheny’s guitar arsenal on the intriguing Water, the first album in a series, which will also include tributes to the elements of earth, fire and air. Even though Liebman and Metheny have known one another for nearly twenty years, this is their first recorded collaboration. Bassist Cecil McBee and drummer Billy Hart make significant contributions to the project as well, but it is the interaction between the leader and guitarist that makes this suite so moving.
    According to the composer, most of the pieces on this CD are variations on the opening theme, "Water: Giver of Life." The contemplative mood of this sax/acoustic guitar feature is explored further in "Reflecting Pool", a Zen-like ballad for wood flute and 48-string Pikasso guitar. At the other end of the sonic spectrum is the screaming guitar-synth assault of "Ebb and Flow," prompting Liebman’s soprano to retaliate with raging banshee wails. Critics who complain that Pat’s guitar sound is a bit too lyrical ought to hear this one!
    Speaking of banshee wails, on Parable, Pete McCann delivers some of the wildest guitar licks this side of Steve Vai. While this North Texas State alum is clearly still in the process of assimilating a number of influences, he has put together a very potent first effort, aided by several other 20-something players willing to buck the current recycled-bop establishment. Not that these guys can’t swing—a quick listen to "Grimlock" or "Hoedown" will reveal joyful, sing-song melodies in the tradition of Ornette Coleman, driven by amazing beatmeister Matt Wilson. Peter Epstein and Bruce Huron alternate saxophone duties; each is able to anticipate the fuzz box curveballs and Whammy pedal sliders McCann hurls at them periodically. For example, both reedmen contribute to the escalating sound-and-fury of "Hoevenen," and Huron jumps right into the metal melee of "Victim Sweepstakes" with a fierce, take-no-prisoners attitude.
    McCann, who enthralled concert-goers at a WWUH-sponsored performance by the New York Nonet last December, has a mellow side, too. Best exemplified here on "Patricia," a lovely bossa nova written for his wife, and "Mind Bender," a dedication to fellow guitarist Ben Monder, these acoustic tracks complete this portrait-of-the-artist-as-a-young-man, and suggest that McCann has a bright future as both performer and composer.
    Voice in the Night finds tenor saxist Charles Lloyd revisiting the title piece, which he originally penned in 1965 for a record date that included Gabor Szabo, Ron Carter and Tony Williams. Here, he’s in the good company of Dave Holland, Billy Higgins and the aforementioned Abercrombie. Lloyd also reprises his best-known composition, "Forest Flower," another of 60s vintage, and "Requiem," from the mid-80s. The decision to re-record the latter piece was sadly prophetic, as it turns out, in the wake of Michel Petrucciani’s recent untimely passing; Lloyd had first brought international attention to the French keyboard virtuoso in 1982.
    Lloyd’s substitution of a pianist with a guitar player for the first time in ages seems to have reinjected a bit of fire into the saxophonist’s playing; having an acknowledged rhythm wizard like Billy Higgins aboard doesn’t hurt, either. The drum/sax duel which opens "Homage" contains Lloyd’s most zealous playing of the session; Abercrombie checks in with an enticing, echo-laden solo, followed by a solid statement from Higgins. The wonderful interplay between Holland and Abercrombie during "Pocket Full of Blues"recalls their wonderful association with the Gateway Trio.
    Since his 1980s comeback, Lloyd has been focusing on recording original compositions, but here he’s chosen to put his own spin on the Strayhorn classic "A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing." More surprising still is the quartet’s lilting version of "God Give Me Strength," the first collaboration by the unlikely songwriting team of Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach. The band conveys the depth of passion contained within this attractive melody, spurred on by Mr. Higgins’ buoyant rhythms. (By the way, guitarist Bill Frisell has just recorded an entire album of Costello/Bacharach tunes!)
    Charles Lloyd’s quartet is currently on tour to promote Voice in the Night. They will perform at The Knitting Factory in New York City on June 9, as part of this year’s Bell Atlantic Jazz Festival.

Copyright©WWUH: May/June Program Guide, 1999

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