The last time that an performance as good as this was put down on record was in 1997, when Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock recorded 1 + 1 (Verve). Naysayers and those who might object to this statement as mere hyperbole out to buy a copy of Balladscapes featuring a duet between Dave Liebman and Richie Beirach. This is, quite simply, an exceptional realisation of what a great saxophonist and piano player can do when they are on song; one of those rare occasions when one is left with a feeling of being in the presence of the thing itself. The key to it all is the sublime musicianship of these two artists. Thanks to the unprecedented expertise of the two men in the ways of Jazz, the dramatic and expressive elements (of this music) are derived from within rather that – as is often the case with lesser musicians – imposed from without.
The music performed here is taut and consistently superb. Both Dave Liebman and Richie Beirach cannot play any other way but brilliantly. Ballads are, by definition, played slowly, with profound accentuation and often at what music has often deemed to be pianissimo. And right from ‘Siciliana’ – with which the disc opens – to ‘Day Dream’ which closes it. At the heart of it all is the musicians’ flawless command of rhythm. You can hear this in the opening bars of ‘Siciliana’ which are ‘right’ in precisely the same way that Johann Sebastian Bach imagined his piece. You also hear it too throughout the record in what is by any reckoning gloriously purposeful accounts of each of the songs. It’s fascinating to hear how rigorously and precisely rhythms are adhered to allowing the music’s heart-rending beauty to sing through. There is, of course, a true mastery of the art of musical gesture and you only have to listen to ‘Quest’ written by Liebman and Beirach to hear what I’m talking about.
Quality of articulation is also key. How this is achieved is revealed in the 4’38” version of Wayne Shorter’s magnificent tribute to Billy Strayhorn, ‘Sweet Pea’. Or in John Coltrane’s ‘Welcome / Expression’, or you may pick any of the Dave Liebman or Richie Beirach compositions here. As the evidence shows, this is an exacting business involving matters as various as how best to realise the sudden juxtaposition of pianissimo and fortissimochords that this music frequently asks for, and what reserves of concentration, energy and aural imagination are required to realise the electric ‘charge’ which courses through the many pages of pianissimo that inform even the most extrovert of these compositions. Both musicians are strict on technique, but that does not affect expression.
In matters of rhythm and articulation, Liebman and Beirach don’t put a foot wrong. Each bides his time giving the musical ideas room to register and breathe before getting down to the business of conjuring forth a performance of wit, charm and gathering power. Texturing is more transparent here especially obvious in the standards – all of them – than it tended to be in other versions of the same pieces. Yet Dave Liebman and Richie Beirach understand the importance of proportionality within and between tempi. The momentum that each piece gathers is just perfect. For all these reasons the music on this disc is comparable to Wayne Shorter’s 1 + 1 with Herbie Hancock. Dave Liebman’s and Richie Beirach’s musicianly skill is of a level rarely achieved before and hardly likely to be exceeded in the near future either.
Track List: Siciliana; For All We Know; This Is New; Quest; Master Of The Obvious; Zingaro; Sweet Pea; Kurtland; Moonlight In Vermont; Lazy Afternoon; Welcome / Expression; DL; Day Dream.
Personnel: Dave Liebman: soprano and tenor saxophones, flute; Richie Beirach: piano.
Release date: April 2016
Running time: 1:14:21