Recording Date: Jan 6,7, 2010
Contact consists of five veterans: David Liebman, John Abercrombie, Marc Copland, Drew Gress, and Billy Hart. All of them have recorded as leaders, though the subdued feeling of this quintet makes it feel like it is an informal gathering of old friends, which is the case, as they have crossed paths in various combinations during their long careers. Abercrombie contributed several originals: the breezy post-bop vehicle "Send Up" showcasing the guitarist and Liebman's soprano sax, and the feverish "Four on One" that suggests someone running very late while being unable to keep his mind on the various things to be done. Liebman contributed the mysterious ballad "Lost Horizon," which puts the spotlight on Copland's gorgeous piano solo. Gress penned the jaunty "My Refrain" and the haunting, constantly evolving ballad "Like It Never Was." Copland's delicate "Childmoon Smile" is yet another outstanding ballad, featuring its composer with lush harmonies added in spots by Liebman and Abercrombie. It is not until the end of the CD that Contact ventures into a standard, but their approach to "You and the Night and the Music" is a bit more ominous than typical interpretations, with Liebman's subdued yet active tenor and Abercrombie's energetic solo leading the way. The musicianship throughout these sessions is never less than superb, so hopefully Contact won't be a one-shot meeting.
All Music Guide
The band called Contact is about as all-star an affair as can be found in modern jazz, and it's hard to imagine any serious listener not having a favorite among the players, whether it's saxophonist and renaissance man Dave Liebman, pianist Marc Copland - whose marvelous New York Trio Recordings pushed his profile up closer to where it belongs-ECM Records stalwart/guitarist John Abercrombie, veteran drummer Billy Hart, or ubiquitous super sideman/bassist Drew Gress. Five on One burns brightly, with a highly cohesive chamber ensemble sound, with no star outshining the others.
Writing assignments are passed around, starting with Abercrombie's lilting "Sendup." It's an optimistic sound, with Liebman, on soprano sax, weaving sweet lines around Copland's light-stepping piano dance, as Hart lays down a gentle and intricate orchestral wash. Gress' "Like It Never Was" explores and inward and interactive ensemble groove, with Liebman wielding a particularly robust tenor saxophone that gathers the group up to a wailing rock energy crescendo before the tune tapers down and drifts off into the ether.
Copland's "Childhood Smile" highlights the pianist's characteristic light touch, which feathers dreamily along in front of the group's nuances and light sonic caresses.
The Caris Visitin/Dave Liebman-penned "Lost Horizon" seems to float like a low, diaphanous morning fog, three feet above the surface of the Earth, as Copland explores the twilight zone, Liebman's soprano cries out like a lonely bird, and Gress, with amazing subtly, shows why he is such an in-demand bassist.
The group takes things way out to the edge with Abercrombie's "Four on One," with Copland surprisingly percussive. Gress' "Like It Never Was" opens with a smoldering momentum that gathers to raging blaze of controlled burn, with Liebman and Abercrombie shredding.
Hart's "Lullaby for Imke" was written, obviously for a gentle and beautiful soul. The music is just that, with tenorist Liebman blowing with achingly heartfelt beauty, as Copland and Abercrombie accompany with grace and shimmering elegance.
The group could have wrapped it up right there for a top shelf effort, but goes after the Great American Songbook jewel, "You and the Night and the Music," to close the show. It is a free-ranging take on the tune, the ensemble noodling slowly into the familiar melody, and then winding it up for a rollicking ride of searing ensemble interplay and Liebman's raw tenor saxophone sound.
Five on One is one of those rare all-star efforts that exceeds expectations, and will certainly be tagged for "Best of the Year" lists.
- Dan Mcclenaghan (www.allaboutjazz.com/php/article.php?id=36640)
They've played together in various permutations and combinations, but Five on One represents the first time they've joined together as a discrete unit. Reconvening the Second Look (Savoy, 1996) quartet-which comprises four-fifths of Contact- pianist Marc Copland proved you can go back again with Another Place (Pirouet, 2009). The quartet's bassist, Drew Gress, has also been a longstanding member of Copland's piano trio, last heard on Night Whispers: New York Trio Recordings Vol. 3 (Pirouet, 2009). Its drummer, Billy Hart, teamed with saxophonist Dave Liebman in Quest, a late-'80s group that reunited for a 2005 tour, documented on Redemption: Live in Europe (Hatology, 2007). Finally, guitarist John Abercrombie was a charter member of the 1970s group Lookout Farm with Liebman. Closing the circle, Liebman and Copland are no strangers, having joined forces for the duo recording Bookends, and quartet set Lunar, both released in 2002 on Switzerland's Hatology label.
Contact brings these five players together for an egalitarian set of eight originals and one standard-a surprisingly open-ended look at the enduring classic, "You and the Night and the Music," which runs the gamut from a dark, modal vamp that immediately speaks Copland's distinctive harmonic voice (and provides a unique context for the song's familiar melody) to fiercely swinging grist for some uncharacteristically outgoing solo playing from the normally pensive pianist.
It's the very combination of a pianist who, more often than not, leans towards introspection and impressionism, and a saxophonist for whom the word "burning" is rarely seen far from his name, that makes Five on One such a revelation. Each player demonstrates his individual strengths and predilections, but coming together clearly pushes each into unexpected territory, as Copland's skewed romanticism and harmonic ambiguity on his own "Childmoon Smile" leads to a soprano solo from Liebman that combines passionate lyricism and evocative leaps into the instrument's upper register.
Abercrombie's writing dominates the set, with three tunes including the almost-album-titled "Four on One," essentially a free improvisation with a brief head that acts as both context setter and rallying point. Taken to far greater extremes than versions on the guitarist's Night (ECM, 1984) or John Abercrombie/Marc Johnson/Peter Erskine (ECM, 1989), it combines a collective chemistry, engendered from years of working in other contexts, with an equally vital sound of surprise, stemming from this first encounter as a unit. As ever, Abercrombie's biggest strength lies in his ability to possess a distinct and recognizable voice without resorting to stock phrases or musical devices that, over time, begin to ring of repetitiveness and predictability.
A description that can, in fact, apply to everyone in Contact. Whether it's turning to starker melodism on Liebman's "Lost Horizon" (co-written with wife Caris Visentin) or revisiting Gress' slow-cooking "Like It Never Was," from the bassist's outstanding 7 Black Butterflies (Premonition, 2005), this is a marriage of many qualities that could, in other hands, work against each other, but here serendipitously assert a unique and compelling collective voice. With a debut this strong, here's hoping Five on One isn't a one-off affair.
- John Kelman (www.allaboutjazz.com/php/article.php?id=36611)