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Dave Liebman


North Pointe Cultural Center
Kinderhook, NY

Saturday, May 7, 2005

by J Hunter

Dave Liebman cut his musical teeth during the birth of Fusion, playing reeds & flute for artists ranging from Miles Davis and Elvin Jones to the seminal jazz-rock group Ten Wheel Drive. While Phil Markowitz' resume is somewhat more traditional, the pianist grew up in East Hampton, NY, the cradle of the Abstract Expressionism movement led by Jackson Pollock and Willem deKooning. With these facts in mind, it is no wonder Liebman and Markowitz share a unique musical vision that has deconstruction at its base.

True, jazz has always been about deconstruction; you'll never hear Miles' arrangement of “Surrey With the Fringe On Top” in any revival of Oklahoma. But there's pulling a building apart brick by brick, and there's hitting the place with a wrecking ball stuffed with dynamite. If straight-ahead, traditional-beginning-middle-and-end music is your thing, then this show was not for you. If you were willing to take a risk and open your mind as well as your ears, you were in the right place Saturday night at Northe Pointe Cultural Center.

As Liebman said during the relaxed pre-show Q&A session, the duo format is all about dialogue: “Now, sometimes one guy's talking about the weather, and another guy's talking about how the Yankees lost…” From the first exchange in the show's opener - the Markowitz composition “Set-To” - you could see how someone could think these men were playing two entirely different pieces of music. The clue was in the title. This wasn't just a dialogue; it was an argument, with each participant speaking from a place of strength and determination. You might not have been able to fathom the subject, but you couldn't help but be impressed by the passion of the participants and the skill of their musical rhetoric.

Whatever instrument he plays, Liebman plays the whole instrument, finding notes and harmonics you wouldn't think were possible, and presenting them in ways that catch the breath. In the prelude to his composition “Phillipe Under The Green Bridge”, Liebman played a child's recorder directly into Markowitz's piano, employing it as both an amplifier and an echo chamber. Markowitz' playing style is as multi-faceted as his influences. While there are elements of the great romanticist Bill Evans (“Sno' Peas”, a Markowitz composition that was part of Saturday night's set, was first recorded by Evans), these are pooled with a chord-based approach that evokes classical composers like Bartok and Copland. The combination dovetails perfectly with Liebman's next-level attack.

The 90-minute set ranged from standards like “Round Midnight” and the encore “The Night Has A Thousand Eyes” to original compositions from Liebman & Markowitz' latest duo recording, Midnight Dialogues (Zoho). Each number was just as thrilling, and just as much of a challenge as the opening salvo. Two pieces - “Phillipe” and Markowitz's “Mahoning” - were inspired by paintings by Claude Monet and Franz Kline, respectively. And even if you weren't familiar with the paintings themselves, the duo's intricate, evocative playing painted the pictures inside your mind.

Like the paintings that inspire them, this music is not for everybody. Northe Pointe, Planet Arts/one2one, and Hudson Valley Friends Of Jazz took a gamble by adding it to their series of duo concerts. The gamble paid off, as evidenced by the standing ovation at the end of the encore. Once again, the pre-show talk was as entertaining as the show itself, with Liebman freely (and, occasionally, profanely) discoursing on everything from State-sponsored music and the evolution of Fusion, to the recent deaths of Elvin Jones (who Liebman credited as a father-figure) and fellow reedman Steve Lacy. Markowitz also gave a heartfelt tribute to a former colleague and leader, the Capital Region's own Nick Brignola. It was a perfect appetizer for the Brignola tribute set to end the spring concert series June 4th.