Pendulum – Dave Liebman Quintet


Rating: ★★★★★

Dave Liebman’s Pendulum is taken from a 2 night gig at the Village Vanguard in NYC, so I suppose there’s no way to really know which of the performances really came first, so I’m going to make a guess and say that the band warmed up with Liebman’s straight ahead changes tune Picadilly Lilly. The band (Dave Liebman on tenor and soprano, Randy Brecker on trumpet, Richie Beirach on piano, Frank Tusa on bass and Al Foster on drums) plays perfectly well and Liebman acquits himself admirably on his solo, as usual, but the tune is not terribly significant (unusual for Liebman, who is not given to insignificance of any kind).

Then comes Footprints, the Wayne Shorter standard. Right away, we know this is going to be a unique interpretation. The tune is taken much faster than usual, Frank Tusa plays an ingenious rhythmic figure on the bass and it becomes apparent that Al Foster is playing in 12/8 time, which gives the tune an unusual headlong momentum. Beirach contributes some tasty comping before setting up the melody with some well-placed rhythmic accents.

Then Liebman comes in with a trill and he and Brecker start to play the head, Liebman playing harmony a 4th above Brecker. Between the sections of the head, Liebman and Brecker insert a bleating sort of commentary, the two tones separated by a major 2nd, so that the “bleating” has a coloristic function, rather than a harmonic one. The overall effect is like a prehistoric animal cantering along, bleating as it goes.

Liebman takes the first solo, using a sheets of sound approach. Beirach comps behind him with stabbing clusters of notes, feeding him with alternate harmonies and accentuating the driving 12/8 time perpetuated by the bass and drums. At one point, drummer Foster breaks up the rhythm in a bolero pattern and Liebman follows suit with some pointed gestures before returning to the form of the tune.

Brecker is up next–he is more judicious in his choice of notes than Liebman, fashioning melodies in an alternate harmonic universe far removed from the simple minor blues Shorter had originally envisaged. The material gets more dense as the solo goes on until it reaches an irreducible complexity, at which point Brecker dissolves into a series of elephantine squeals.

Beirach is next. He earns his nickname “The Code,” playing rhythmic chords on the form of the tune in ever more extended harmonies, while following Brecker’s lead in creating singable melodies out of the bizarre materials. Beirach’s rhythmic acuity is simply razor sharp here, but what is even more amazing is that he’s playing the equivalent of three dimensional chess in his head, creating melodies, extending harmony, and comping the hell out of the tune, all in the form of the tune, all at the same time.

Foster has one hell of a hard act to follow, but he pulls it off by maintaining the form of the tune in his solo, unusual for a drummer. Instead of simply showing off, Foster divides up the 12/8 time in astonishing ways, sometimes going over the bar line, sometimes playing 3 against 4 or 3 against 8, but never losing sight of the form, always keeping the momentum going that he and Tusa have so studiously established. It’s one hell of a performance.

Liebman and Brecker play the head again and take the tune out, both soloing freely, bringing to a close THE definitive version of Wayne Shorter’s classic.

If the date ended right there, it would already be a must have, but Liebman’s Quintet has more up their sleeve.

Richie Beirach’s Pendulum is an ingeniously harmonized melody that approaches and dodges the tonic on a F# pedal point. Since, harmonically speaking, the tune is composed entirely of the F# chord, this gives the soloists the challenge of coming up with harmonic material implied by the theme and structuring their solos to give them a beginning, middle, and end.

Randy Brecker is more than up to the task. He generates melodies out of thin air, always respecting the material of the tune, but infinitely expanding on the harmonic possibilities. He’s just mesmerizing.

Beirach’s solo doesn’t neglect harmony, but his solo is more about the rhythmic possibilities inherent in the material, which he exploits magnificently.

Liebman tempts fate by following these two, and while he contributes a fine solo, he definitely suffers in comparison.

Not once in the entire 18 plus minutes of Pendulum is there even one moment of tedium or lack of forward movement. It’s a virtuostic performance by the entire band, but justice requires that Randy Brecker and Richie Beirach be singled out for praise.

Now for the bad news. This recording is not available on CD. The good news is that it is available on LP. This is a prime example of why you still need a turntable (see my post Why You STILL Need to Own a Turntable).

(Editor: June 26th, 2008 – Major news flash! Pendulum has been re-leased with 2 CDs worth of never released performances from the legendary Village Vanguard gig! For more details, see my post Dave Liebman’s Pendulum Re-Released on Mosaic Records!)

But if you don’t really feel like putting Pendulum on a turntable every time you want to hear it, there is hope. It is possible, and much cheaper and easier than you would think, to transfer LPs to CD. For more details, see my post Taking Care of Your Old LPs – Transferring to CD Part 1.

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