Thursday, July 14, 2016

''Is Seeing Believing?'' - Liebman, Ineke, Laginha, Cavalli, Pinheiro

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

In sending me a preview copy of the ''... CD Is Seeing Believing? by the Liebman/Ineke/Laginha/Cavalli/Pinheiro Quintet [Challenge - Daybreak DBCHR - 75224] drummer Eric Ineke explained that “ … the record was recorded in Portugal in 2014 and has an international character. We all know each other through the International Association of Schools of Jazz.”

Just to be clear at the outset, in addition to Dave Liebman on soprano and tenor saxophones and Eric on drums - both of whom have been stablemates for many years - the record features the talents of Ricardo Pinheiro on guitar, Mario Laginha on keyboards and Massimo Cavalli on bass.

The CD arrived recently and upon listening to it the following thoughts came to mind based around two themes - old and mature - which when combined form a reciprocal duality [think of “ying and yang” - opposites that are mutually inclusive].

In his insert notes, Dave Liebman states that:

“I remember when I took lessons with Charles Lloyd in the mid 1960s in his Greenwich Village apartment. One day out of the clear blue he said: "You'll spend the rest of your life editing."

A few years later when I played with Miles Davis, one night he said to me: "Stop before you're done!"

Like a lot of the little Zen-type phrases that the older jazz guys used to make points to the younger guys, it took me years to understand what they meant.

In this case these little words of advice all seemed to relate to one thing: how to say more with less. "Maturing as an artist"...."leaving more space between ideas"......"creating a good melody is worth everything"......"technique, though necessary should never obscure the musical point being developed".... etc.

It seemed that a valid goal for further developing as a player was to get to the heart of the matter and leave the unnecessary frills behind. I am not going to be so presumptuous as to suggest that I have found success in this way and suddenly achieved artistic maturity, but I do see progress in this regard.”

By way of contrast, there is a tendency among young Jazz players to use a lot of notes in their solos.

This inclination seems to be a part of the joys of first expression; the thrill of discovering that you can play an instrument and play it well.

Kind of like: “Look what I’ve found? Look what I can do? Isn’t this neat?”

Another reason why these young, Jazz musicians play so many notes is because they can.

They are young, indiscriminately so, and they want to play everything that rushes through their minds, getting it from their head into their hands almost instantly.

Their Jazz experience is all new and so wonderful; why be discerning when you can have it all?

If such abilities to “get around the instrument” were found in a young classical musician romping his or her way through one of Paganini’s Caprices, they would be celebrated as a phenomena and hailed as a prodigy.

Playing Paganini’s Caprices, Etudes, et al. does take remarkable technical skills, but in fairness, let’s remember that Paganini already wrote these pieces and the classical musician is executing them from memory.

In the case of the Jazz musician, playing complicated and complex improvisations requires that these be made up on the spot with an unstated preference being that anything that has been played before in the solo cannot be repeated.

But often times when a Jazz musician exhibits the facility to create multi-noted, rapidly played improvised solos, this is voted down and labeled as showboating or derided as technical grandstanding at the expense of playing with sincerity of feeling.

Such feats of technical artistry are greeted with precepts such as “It’s not what you play, but what you leave out” as though the young, Jazz performer not only has to resolve the momentary miracle of Jazz invention, but has to do so while solving a Zen koan at the same time [What is the sound of the un-played note or some such nonsense].

Youthful exuberance as contrasted with the artistic maturity that Dave Liebman suggests in his notes are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Both are part of the process of artistic growth and development which the Jazz musician undergoes over time.

In his notes, Dave goes on to say that - “This recording reflects this process as much as anything I have personally recorded in the past few years (and those who know me are aware of how much I record!). From the standards to the contrafacts to the originals the music that Massimo, Ricardo, Eric, Mario and I created is very lyrical, subdued, highly sophisticated and user-friendly.

Without going overboard, the music swings and feels good. What strikes me as well is the way we all kind of just naturally tuned into this vibe I am describing. Of course, the group's cumulative experience, coupled with the highly international status of the band (Mario and Ricardo from Portugal; Massimo from Italy; Eric from Netherlands and myself from New York) does point to a level of artistic maturity.

I am proud of how we constructed this together so quickly and smoothly. I think even your proverbial "grandmother" would enjoy this music. Thanks to the guys and all those who helped us put together this product.”

More artistic maturity is on hand in terms of the nine songs selected for the recording which include three of my favorite “old chestnuts:” [1] Old Folks, [2] Skylark and [3] I Remember You.

Gary Giddins in his definitive biography - Bing Crosby: A Pocketful of Dreams - The Early Years, 1903-1940 shared this background on Old Folks which Bing recorded in 1938:

“Matty Matlock arranged "Old Folks," a new song by Willard Robison, the master of pastoral ballads, whose folklike melodies and nostalgic images influenced Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer. After a deft four-bar intro by clarinet and brasses, Bing enters brightly, in utter control of the narrative lyric, as if the consonant-heavy words and tempo changes presented no difficulties whatsoever. He floats over the rhythm like a kite on a breeze. Bing's version helped establish the song as an unlikely yet durable jazz standard, with interpretations ranging from Jack Teagarden to Charlie Parker to Miles Davis.”

And in his seminal The Jazz Standards: A Guide to the Repertoire, Ted Gioia offers these observations about Old Folks and Willard Robison’s penchant for “... finding musical accompaniment to end-of-life musings:”

“Robison relied on a variety of lyricists for his songs, which were often marked by a lonesome world-weariness mixed with ample doses of nostalgia and smalltown Americana. …  Nowadays audiences will probably scratch their heads in befuddlement when the singer mentions that no one can remember whether Old Folks fought for the "blue or the gray." But the song retains its appeal and place in the standard repertoire, even as its references grow more and more outdated, largely due to its muted poignancy. …

Miles Davis's recording of Old Folks, from his 1961 project Someday My Prince Will Come, remains the most familiar jazz interpretation of this standard. … —this is one of Davis's most moving ballad performances, and as close as you will come to a definitive version of Old Folks.

And in the same work, Ted offers these insights into what makes the pathos in Skylark so compelling:

“If I had to rank jazz ballads on the emotional impact of their melodies, on their capability of sinking me into a sweet reverie, Hoagy Carmichael’s Skylark would be a contender for the top spot on the list. Carmichael had already proven 15 years earlier with Star Dust that he could construct a pop song from probing jazz phrases and still manage to generate a mega-hit. With Skylark he offered another telling example. The melody grows more daring as it develops. The motif in bar six is very much akin to what a jazz trumpeter might play, and the ensuing turnaround is not just a way of getting back to the beginning, as with so many songs, but a true extension of the melody, which pushes all the way to the end of the form.

The B theme is just as good as the A theme, and even more jazz-oriented. Commentators have suggested that Skylark, much like this composer's Star Dust, represented an attempt to capture the essence of 1920’s-era Bix Beiderbecke's improvising style in a song—and, in fact, Carmichael first developed the piece as part of his unrealized plans for a Broadway musical about Beiderbecke. But, to my ears, the bridge to Skylark reminds me of the manner in which a i94os-era Coleman Hawkins would solo on a ballad. Whatever the genesis, the end result of these various ingredients is an expression of feeling so natural and unforced that casual listeners won't notice the technical aspects, only the potent mood created by the finished song.

Johnny Mercer makes a substantial contribution with his words.”

There is also a Johnny Mercer connection to I Remember You which was penned by Victor Schertzinger for the 1941 movie The Fleet’s In as not only did Johnny write the lyrics for the tune he also directed the movie.

According to the Turner Classic Movie documentary Johnny Mercer: The Dream's On Me, Mercer wrote the song for Judy Garland, to express his strong infatuation with her. He gave it to her the day after she married David Rose.

In the capable hands veteran musicians such as Dave Liebman, Ricardo Pinheiro, Mario Laginha, Massimo Cavalli and Eric Ineke, there are now three more exceptional versions of these beautiful ballads.

Is Seeing Believing? [Challenge - Daybreak DBCHR - 75224] is available from Amazon as both an Mp3 download and as a CD and you can also purchase the disc on It’s a first rate recording that features the talents of professional musicians and Jazz educators who lead by example.