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Monday, 8 October 2012

Lookout Farm – Dave Liebman (1974)

Do you like Jazz? Or to be more precise – what kind of jazz do you like? Jazz shares something in common with dance music - it consists of a multitude of sub-genres, all of which can be validly called jazz, no matter how dissimilar they seem to each other. Try telling that to the young American jazz musicians collectively labeled as ‘The Young Lions,’ who emerged in the early 1980’s and were spearheaded by trumpet player Wynton Marsalis. These jazz musicians embraced acoustic jazz forms from the past, such as New Orleans Jazz, Be-Bop, Post-Bop and Modal Jazz. To them these sub-genres are jazz, not the fusion and jazz-rock of the late 1960’s and 1970’s. In the 1980’s the ethos of ‘The Young Lions’ took hold in the U.S. and jazz went back to the future.

What does this have to do with Dave Liebman’s Lookout Farm? Well, everything actually. The jazz played on this album and the European jazz label that released it – ECM, are significant parts of the story of jazz that didn’t play to the rules laid down by ‘The Young Lions.’ In the book Is Jazz Dead, Or Has it Moved to a Different Address? (2005), author Stuart Nicholson argues that the traditionalist scene in the USA has left jazz moribund and that the real creative story of modern jazz can be found elsewhere, particularly in Europe on labels such as ECM.

ECM is an excellent jazz label that was founded in 1969 and has been the home of jazz musicians who willingly stretch the boundaries of the idiom. If you want your jazz to have experimental qualities, yet to still be quite listenable, then ECM is the label for you. ECM has a coherent identity, much like 4AD and Mute, which is almost a guarantee of a certain level of quality.

Lookout Farm is a sublime jazz-fusion album and is indicative of a typical ECM release. Side A kicks off with Pablo’s Story – a Latin influenced track that begins with classical guitar, then flute and electric guitar together with cowbells. It’s poised and beautiful and then it becomes an up-tempo workout with saxophones and congas taking it on a wild ride. A portion of this fourteen-minute track can be listened to here.

Sam’s Float initially sounds mysterious, with a bass line leading into flute trills whilst a female voice wails – it’s like a brief adventure into the ether. Side B is one twenty-four minute track called M.D/Lookout Farm. It begins with acoustic piano followed by plaintive tenor saxophone and as the track develops it is atmospheric and sometimes quite abstract. There’s everything happening in this track – you can call it a jam, but it is coherent and tightly played. Towards the end there is a great percussive section with tablas and congas before a saxophone led freak-out warps time over never-ending elastic minutes. This music is as good as anything Weather Report produced in the early 1970s, and that’s really saying something. It’s a pity that no one has put it up on You-tube.

Dave Liebman played in Elvin Jones’ band after John Coltrane died in 1967 and then was hired by Mile Davis, playing with the master between 1970 – 74, the period in which this great record was recorded. Lookout Farm displays similar qualities to Miles Davis’ work during that period, being both adventurous and avant-garde, but also very listenable. The sessions took place in October 1973 and features Liebman on flute and soprano and tenor saxes. The other principle musicians are Richard Beirach, Frank Tusa and Jeff Williams. If you are thinking something along the lines of who the hell are these guys? – then I don’t blame you, but perhaps it is time they were more recognized for the great music they played on this relatively obscure classic.

Dave Liebman in the early 1970's

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