Monday, February 26, 2007

Back on the Corner

Back on the Corner
By Dave Liebman
Tone Center TC 40532

Years after his death Miles Davis continues to cast a long musical shadow, with musicians continuing to engage with his recorded legacy. Dave Liebman played on Davis’ On the Corner, an album that continues to provoke vastly disparate critical responses. As Liebman writes in the liner notes: “You don’t travel and play nightly with Miles Davis without it having a huge effect on oneself, musically as well as personally.” As an attempt to take stock of his experience with Davis, Liebman enlisted another Davis alumnus, Mike Stern, for Back on the Corner, a tribute featuring mostly Liebman originals.

While OTC had an intense, in-your-face attitude, BOTC is a more relaxed, kind groover, like the opener, “5th Street.” Stern turns up the heat though, with a fleet solo, echoing the feel of electric Miles. It is one of only two tunes featuring Liebman’s tenor, appropriately so given Davis’ increasing preference for the soprano in his later years.

Liebman switches to soprano for Davis’ “Ife,” taken as slow electric blues. Vic Juris gets the guitar honors, for some lowdown statements, before Liebman’s fiery return. Indeed, Liebman is particularly generous with the solo spotlight, giving feature track interludes to bass, drums, acoustic, and electric guitars.

The other Davis original, “Black Satin,” a funky up-tempo burner, might be closest to spirit of OTC. Again on soprano, Liebman is propelled by Marko Marcinko’s power drumming.

Liebman’s original compositions are intriguing, like the haunting “Mesa D’Espana” and the delicate “Bela.” Both use space more than one would expect in a fusion tribute and demonstrate a patience to let the music unfold to great effect. “Bela” features a nice bass solo from Tony Marino, before Stern and Juris trade off on guitar. Liebman’s soprano and flute, as well as the textures of Juris’ acoustic and Stern’s electric guitars give “Mesa” an exotic feeling, somewhat far a field from OTC, but certainly compelling.

Things come full circle with “J.B. Meets Sly/5th Street Reprise,” the concluding track that like “Black Satin,” channels the James Brown vibe which inspired Davis when he recorded OTC. Liebman on soprano and Juris and Stern on electric guitars get in plenty of pyrotechnics before taking it out.

Liebman does not try to play the way he did during his eighteen months with Davis, wisely avoiding attempts to recreate the past. BOTC does make a statement about the continuing influence of Miles Davis and presents an artistically rewarding set of the much maligned fusion genre.