Picks and Pans Review: Elegy for Bill Evans
Dave Liebman and Richie Beirach, New Yorkers of baby-boom vintage (’46 and ’47, respectively), helped shape the jazz-fusion movement with their band, Lookout Farm, formed in 1974. Their latest project is Quest (Palo Alto Records), which is also the name of a quartet featuring Liebman on saxes and flute, Beirach on piano, George Mraz on bass and (for this album) Al Foster on drums. Despite its intellectual, oblique style that takes some warming to, the group plays with passion. A good example is Al Foster’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, a portrait of the mercurial Miles Davis, with whom Foster and Liebman have worked. Liebman plays the sinuous, repeating melodic line, and his solo weaves a vocabulary of slurs, wails, sighs, staccato taps and knotted figures around a long, pretty burst of melody. Liebman’s thin, penetrating soprano sax is not always pleasing, but he excels in a driving Softly as in a Morning Sunrise and on alto flute, in a moodily evocative reworking of Ornette Coleman’s Lonely Woman. On Lonely Woman, which has no formal rhythm, the exceptional talents of Mraz and Foster step to the foreground. Yet, overall, it’s Beirach, with his lyricism, harmonic richness and intelligence, who gives each piece its emotional center. Beirach was a longtime friend of pianist Bill Evans, who died in 1980. Evans was famed for his sensitivity and beauty of touch, harmony and conception. His subtleties could lull you into overlooking his sense of rhythm—until it swept you off your feet. Beirach has similar gifts. His fourth album as a leader, Elegy for Bill Evans (Palo Alto), not only evokes the master’s work but stands on a par with it. He and Questmates Mraz and Foster create an excitement and sharing of quicksilver ideas that were the hallmarks of Evans’ trios, especially the group with Scott LaFaro on bass and Paul Motian on drums.