Dave Liebman – soprano sax
Bobby Avey – piano
Matt Vashlishan – alto sax
Tony Marino – bass
Alex Ritz – drums
There were a bunch of great shows in Pittsburgh over the last week (The Ruff Pack @ Gus’s, Black Milk @ Spirit, Lina Allemano @ The Thunderbird and a Surface Level Records showcase @ The Irma Freeman Center). Due to a nagging chest cold, I missed all of them. But a few days ago I found out that Dave Liebman and his group Expansions were playing at Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild on Saturday. After missing all of those other shows, I really hoped I’d be up for this one and luckily I was.
Over the last few months, I’ve randomly bought two Dave Liebman records from Jerry’s (Sweet Hands and Pendulum) and I’ve really enjoyed them. Liebman may not be a household name, but he’s been around since the 70’s and has led and/or been involved with all kinds of incredible projects over the years. Most jazz performances at Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild are kinda pricey and not the kind of shows I’m into. So, I was kind of surprised that this was happening and even more surprised by the very affordable $15 ticket price. This was my first time at MCG. I found the place to be a bit academic and stiff, but certainly not a terrible place to see a show.
Throughout the 1.5 hour long set, the quintet touched upon several different styles and moods. Much of the material, including the title track from their new album, The Puzzle, had almost like a mid-60’s Miles Davis/Wayne Shorter kind of vibe which I really dug. For me, one thing that stands out in much of contemporary jazz, and not in a good way, is the piano. I can’t really describe what I mean by that, but Bobby Avey‘s style last night was different…a bit reminiscent of 1960’s Herbie Hancock or McCoy Tyner and it worked really well. One piece entitled “The Moors” had a mysterious, exotic and tribal feel to it, whereas, “Good Bait” by Tadd Dameron was straight jazz, definitely the “jazziest” part of the set. The video above was the closing song (although they did follow with an encore) and definitely the most avant or free-jazz of the night. I think the title was “Open Sky” or “Music Is Like the The Open Sky”. Liebman dedicated it to jazz artists Phil Woods and Ornette Coleman, who both passed away this year. Coincidentally, MCG was the site of Woods’ last performance which took place just last month.