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Pomegranate

Steuart Liebig

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Album Review

This is what you get when you pair one fine composer-bandleader-bassist with a rag-tag group of improvisational malcontents who know how to stir up a set of arrangements into a noxious brew of little big-band aesthetics and creative anarchy. Add to this mixture to four soloists from outside the ensemble — for whom particular pieces of music is written — fold in, stir radically, and allow the air of freedom to penetrate thoroughly. The end result is Pomegranate. Steuart Liebig's all-star band of improvisers — that includes the composer on bass, drummer Alex Cline, violinist Jeff Gauthier, trombonist Scott Ray, John Fumo on trumpet, and Ellen Burr on flute — back four soloists in as many compositions designed to create spectral and textural possibilities along a chosen field of harmonic convergences and free-form intervallic encounters, offering a wider than intended color palette for both soloist and ensemble, thereby stretching composition and players to their respective limits. The soloists — saxophonist Vinny Golia, French horn player Tom Varner, bassist Mark Dresser, and guitar god Nels Cline — all respond with aplomb, taste, and the fiery awareness of this unique opportunity. While each of the four compositions here is nothing less than stellar in its complexity and lush arrangement for both group and soloist to take direction from, it is Dresser's "The Motionless Blue of Fallen Skies" and Cline's "The Darkness of Each Endless Fall" that stand out. On the Dresser tune, the bassist's bowing and pizzicato abilities are put to use in a series of tone row explorations that give way to extended passages of microtonal improvisation, along the perimeter of an ensemble playing in both 12-tone and modal sequences (alternating effectively between sequences), and creating for Dresser a structured yet fluid space for lyricism and harmonic assonance within a set of parameters of his own choosing. In Cline's piece, Liebig has given the guitarist an architectural largesse within which all of the differing chromatic paradoxes of that instrument may reveal themselves as harmonic or chromatic possibilities for the ensemble to reach (a mirror image almost from the Dresser work). For all its squealing, ripping excess, Cline's guitar has a firm hold on the melodic considerations of his own hearing, and the result for the listener is no less than thrilling. Ultimately, this disc proves a pleasant, revelatory surprise for those who thought Liebig mainly a fine bassist. His compositional and arranging abilities as showcased on this fine disc reveal him to be an important voice in the future of avant-garde music.

Pomegranate, Steuart Liebig
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