REVIEW: Dave Liebman and Marc Copland at Pizza Express (2018 EFG LJF)

Dave Liebman with Marc Copland in the background
Photo: © Paul Wood
Dave Liebman and Marc Copland
(Pizza Express Dean Street, 17 November 2018. EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by Jon Turney)

A pair of masters who have worked together a lot – including a duo recording in 2002 – were exploring that most exposed of formats again here on a brief European tour. Their first sold-out show on Saturday night was a gorgeous demonstration of the possibilities of just one horn and a piano.

A duo as accomplished as this one emphasises the pliability of a tune, whether a standard or a newly minted beauty, as with Richie Beirach’s Elegy for John A. This moving tribute to John Abercrombie, a player also important to Dave Liebman and, especially, Marc Copland – who played with the guitarist even before he switched from saxophone to piano back in the 1970s – benefitted from Liebman’s casual ability to toy with tonality on soprano saxophone, bending notes now and again ever so slightly, but never completely out of shape.

Copland’s piano sound, by contrast, emphasises a crystalline purity, but shares Liebman’s studied care in note placement. A Copland solo always feels as if it is going somewhere – not just fishing for the next idea – as shown to best effect on Hancock’s Maiden Voyage. As with the closer, All Blues, it’s a tune that comes with a high risk of mining cliches, but they made it sound fresh and alive. Another standard and a couple more originals, one from each player, rounded out the set, with Liebman also contributing some thoughtful tenor and engagingly wayward on wooden flute.

One of those sets where you fancy you can feel decades of playing, and deep study, informing the performance of each tune moment-by-moment. Look away from the stage, and register the muted clatter of cutlery, and it might seem momentarily odd to enjoy such delicately balanced chamber music in a pizza joint, but then it’s impossible not to just get lost in the music again.

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