Masters In Bordeaux (Sunnyside Records)
Martial Solal & Dave Liebman
Released September 29, 2017
DownBeat Five-Star Review
The meeting of two musical giants is a pretty common thing these days. Far more uncommon is the first collaboration of two musicians from different generations and continents. That is precisely what is so unique and wonderful about the recent partnership of French piano legend Martial Solal and American saxophone giant Dave Liebman and their new recording, Masters In Bordeaux.
Born in Algiers and based in Paris since 1950, Solal is arguably the most important name in jazz from Europe. The 90-year-old pianist has been at the cutting edge of jazz music since the 1950s, as one of the first Europeans to master the bop language, scoring Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless, leading an extraordinary big band, and collaborating with important voices in the music from around the globe.
Twenty years Solal’s junior, NEA Jazz Master Liebman has been a force in the spread of the music. His mastery of the saxophone and his musical eclecticism have made him a role model to many younger players. Liebman’s extensive résumé covers sideman roles with many of the masters, including Elvin Jones and Miles Davis, as well as leading his own revolutionary ensembles.
Though a fan of Solal’s work, Liebman had never met or played with him before 2016. It was the saxophonist’s former student Jean-Charles Richard who was able to bring the two together. Being Solal’s son-in-law, Richard was able to propose a meeting. Liebman provided some music of his longtime collaboration with the great pianist Richie Beirach. It wasn’t long before Solal reached out in hopes of playing with Liebman.
Their first performances were at the Sunside Jazz Club in Paris. Liebman was struck by Solal’s complete control and harmonic adventurousness. The two performed standards and a couple of originals in two successful evenings. The exhilaration of performing together, the challenge of their demanding musical knowledge, and their instant rapport made further meetings a priority.
The duo’s next opportunity came when Jean-Jacques Quesada invited them to perform a concert at Château Guiraud in Sauternes, France as part of the Jazz and Wine Festival in Bordeaux.
The material was selected on the spot. The two decided to play standards that they knew well but that would prove to be intriguing because of the duo’s flair for harmonic experimentation.
The program begins with a fascinatingly deconstructed version of Kern and Hammerstein’s “All The Things You Are,” the two musicians seemingly finishing each other’s musical statements. Cole Porter’s “Night and Day” is introduced by Solal’s introspective plucking before Liebman’s resonant tenor begins to sing alongside, both bringing real sparks with their playing. Spritely soprano introduces Miles Davis’s “Solar” while Solal’s piano plays brilliant and allusive lines setting off some amazing interplay.
Porter’s “What Is This Thing Called Love” begins with a fantastic, pointillist tenor cadenza commences with an exhilarating duo passage, followed by a poignant Solal solo. The duo’s take on Kaper and Washington’s “On Green Dolphin Street” is measured yet still seeking. The Davis, Ramirez, and Sherman chestnut “Lover Man” concludes the set with perfectly weighted drama and intent.
In a true show of musical generosity and spirit, Martial Solal and Dave Liebman have begun a marvelous new partnership. Their new recording Masters In Bordeaux displays the duo’s quickly developing empathy and brilliance in performance.
1. All the Things You Are (Oscar Hammerstein II / Jerome Kern) 7:44
2. Night and Day (Cole Porter) 9:35
3. Solar (Miles Davis) 8:21
4. What Is This Thing Called Love (Cole Porter) 7:01
5. On Green Dolphin Street (Bronislaw Kaper / Ned Washington) 5:11
6. Lover Man (Jimmy Davis / Roger Ramirez / James Sherman) 7:13
Martial Solal: piano
Dave Liebman: saxophones
Recorded August 4, 2016, at Château Guiraud, Sauternes, France
Engineer: Cyril Rodriguez
Mixing: Florian Von Voixem, Kurt Renker
Mastering: Katsuhiko Naito
Photography: Jean-Baptiste Millot
Graphic Design: Christopher Drukker
No false advertising here. Martial Solal may not be as celebrated on this side of the Atlantic as he is in Europe, but there’s no denying the 90-yearold French pianist’s command of the instrument. Likewise, Dave Liebman has been a leading voice on soprano and tenor saxophone since the ’70s. It doesn’t take much to imagine that the two together would make for duets of the first order. And yet, Masters In Bordeaux (recorded live at the Jazz and Wine Festival) manages to exceed expectations. From the moment Liebman’s soprano chirps the repeated, threenote intro from “All The Things You Are,” it’s clear that the two aren’t interested in perfunctory readings of jazz standards. Liebman plays the riff, and Solal answers in fractured harmony, and they begin to improvise, extrapolating ins this manner for 14 bars before finally stating the melody. Even then, it’s hardly a standard reading, as Liebman and Solal play not only with tune’s form and harmonic logic, but with the pacing and rhythmic structure of each other’s playing. Because their six-song set is made up entirely of jam session chestnuts like “Lover Man” and “Night And Day,” the focus is not on the tunes but on the inexhaustible depths of Solal and Liebman’s inventiveness. Even when they occasionally turn to the obvious—for instance, Solal quoting “Hot House” during his solo on “What Is This Thing Called Love”—the context makes it seem like a surprise. Indeed, the only possible complaint a listener could have with Masters In Bordeaux would be that there wasn’t a second set.
J.D. Considine (DownBeat)