CD REVIEW: Arthur Barron, Dave Liebman, Abel Pabon - The Miami Jazz Project

Arthur Barron, Dave Liebman, Abel Pabon - The Miami Jazz Project
(ZOHO ZM 201409. CD review by Andy Boeckstaens)

South Florida-based saxophonist and flautist Arthur Barron describes The Miami Jazz Project as “an extension of the tradition that Miles and other bands like Weather Report laid down”.

With that assertion in mind, the opening piece - John Coltrane’s blues Dahomey Dance - comes as something of a surprise, in that it is strongly rooted in Coltrane and McCoy Tyner's 1961 original, and makes its impact through powerful solos by Barron and his old friend and one-time teacher Dave Liebman (and enhanced by the vibraphone of Alfredo Chacon) A similar gravitas exists on Barron's fine composition Mr. Q, which has Elvin Jones-like accents to underpin its call-and-response melody.

Several tracks do indeed go in the direction of Barron's statement. Lordy Lourdes has a backbeat, a mysterious flute-led Middle Eastern scale and synthethised violin sounds. The saxophone motif of Jinnistan has a similar melody, and its restless riff, unfettered solos and wail of electric keyboards recall the progressive rock-jazz of bands like Colosseum. Winter Day is a peaceful tune with acoustic piano and soprano sax, but it suffers from a synthesized backdrop and superfluous percussion. Together, these new pieces sound dated, and whether they constitute an "extension" of the exploratory worlds of, say, Dark Magus and Black Market is open to debate.

The link between these styles is Liebman: he played with Miles in the early 1970s, produced his own take on jazz-funk a few years later, took an abiding interest in ethnic music, and became a leading authority and interpreter of Coltrane’s music. Slow Dance on the Killing Ground - built on a fast bass and drums riff - first appeared on Liebman’s album Light’n Up, Please! (recorded in the mid-‘70s for A&M, where Barron was a co-producer). Although it doesn’t do much for me, this furious track may be the one that extends “the tradition” more than any other.

The rhythm section plays a central role in creating diverse flavours, and keyboardist Abel Pabon is particularly chameleonic. Josh Allen on acoustic and electric basses, and Eric England (electric bass on one track) acquit themselves well, and drummer Michael Piolet impresses with the swing of Elvin, the power of Al Foster and the precision of Bill Bruford.

Some tunes stand apart from the others. Missing Person is a duet for the saxophonists, during which it is hard to tell where the improvisation diverges from the written lines. Commissioned by (and named after) a German amateur saxophonist, Scheer Joy has lyrical electric piano, features Liebman’s soprano, and is the best of the ballads.

If  your hands - like mine – go clammy at the mere mention of Liebman's name, you will be disappointed to hear that most of this CD lacks the searing intensity of his finest work. However, the music may appeal to many listeners for its retro qualities and the variety that Barron offers, and purists will certainly enjoy the two Coltrane-related tracks.

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