Jazz fans who showed up at Scullers Jazz Club on Monday night hoping to hear some typical big band music, maybe a few Tadd Dameron charts expertly executed, were in for quite a shock. But those who came because they know surprise and invention are
the order of the night whenever soprano saxophonist David Liebman is involved were indeed in the right place.
Liebman was the evenings featured soloist with the 17-piece Brussels Jazz Orchestra. The band, formed a decade ago by a trio of musicians, including artistic director and conductor Frank Vaganee, appeared at Scullers in 2002 with pianist Kenny Werner. After playing with the BJO in Antwerp last summer, Liebman invited the orchestra to play with him at Scullers. The group aims to promote the music of Flemish musicians and composers, one of whom, unbilled trumpeter Bert Joris, joined the BJO for the evenings first two numbers.
With the trumpeters "Walking Tiptoe," the orchestra created a cool jazz sound, inviting Joris to float his muted melody across the top as well as sneak his elegant improvisations in and out of the rhythm section. The remainder of the set showcased three Liebman compositions, each by a different arranger.
The first, a Bill Warfield arrangement of "Pablo's Story," opened with moody guitar work by Hendrick Braeckman. Liebman, a physical player, doesnt so much play his soprano as attack it, coaxing succinct, intense phrases fromit. The combination of big band and freeplaying soprano sax began as an odd juxtaposition, but by the end of "Pablo's Story" it sounded completely natural.
The next tune, Liebmans "Done With Restraint," arranged by Jim McNeely, was sublime.
Spare playing from drummer Jens D¨uppe and pianist Nathalie Loriers, with electronic effects from guitarist Braeckman, turned the room into a moonscape (or, more timely, a Mars-scape), across which the horn sections sent a dissonant wind. The orchestra traded
short passages with Liebman, who at times played tones that began as long breaths before evolving into recognizable notes. True to the evenings form, the number ended not with a big band bang but with an unresolved whisper.
The final number was a Bill Dobbins arrangement of the two-parter "M.D./Lookout Farm." Vaganees curved soprano cut a swath of clarity above the horn section, while Liebman
played longer tones, wailing over the bands vamp. The second section included a fine piano solo by Loriers in which she alternated lightning-quick runs with passages that let the piece breathe.
At a jazz educators conference last winter, Liebman said that an audience is lucky to be in the presence of skilled musicians whove worked a lifetime on their craft. Agree with him or not, for this fascinating set the audience was truly fortunate.
(Brussels Jazz Orchestra Featuring David Liebman and Bert Joris; At Scullers Jazz Club, first set, Monday night)