By Devon “Doc” Wendell
Taking on this music of pianist Richie Beirach and saxophonist Dave Liebman is no easy feat. After years of collaborating together, Liebman and Beirach have an almost telepathic musical intimacy that is complex, soulful and most of all, unique.
Vocalist Fred Farell’s latest project Distant Song captures the music of Liebman and Beirach beautifully. Farell didn’t merely copy Liebman’s and Beirach’s compositions, he added sublime lyrics and a magically ethereal vocal style.
Farell is accompanied by Liebman on Wooden recorder, as well as soprano & tenor saxophones. Richie Beirach appears on acoustic piano, of course.
“Broken Wing” takes us back to Richie Beirach’s days with Chet Baker. Farell’s lyrics and vocal delivery are mournful and tender. Liebman’s soprano sax work sails in and out of the perfectly stated changes comped by Beirach. The listener is instantly hypnotized into a visceral world of love, light and often sorrow.
“Lonnie’s Song” features one of Farell’s finest vocal performances on the album. And after all these years, it is apparent that Beirach and Liebman were both students of modern bop pianist master and composer Lennie Tristano. Those dissonant chords and suspenseful silences add a challenge to the music that Farell is certainly up for.
Dave Liebman’s “Forgotten Fantasies” is a haunting instrumental. That soulful symmetry between Liebman and Beirach is stronge than ever before.
On Liebman’s “Tomorrow’s Expectations,” Farell’s meditative lyrics about inner explorations adds a new dimension to this classic. It feels as if the lyrics were part of this composition from the beginning.
Farell’s melancholy lyrics on Beirach’s “Leaving” tell a story of a broken romance. “A train ride sends me leaving you;” Farell paints a vivid picture of the passing scenery on the train ride and every contemplative thought along the way.
Fred Farell’s debut on www.whalingcitysound.com/ is accessible yet exploratory. Fred Farell’s vocals and lyrics are nothing short of compelling on every level, as is the genius of Dave Liebman and Richie Beirach. This is a must for all jazz lovers.
By Devon “Doc” Wendell
Frustration is what often drives an artist to reach that new creative plateau. An artist sometimes feels that they must break away from the past where their new innovations no longer fits. But being forced into the confines of the past while presenting the new can create something beautifully unexpected.
This was certainly the case with John Coltrane in the Spring of 1960 when he embarked on his final tour with Miles Davis. Supposedly the tensions between Miles and Trane were so strong that Trane didn’t talk to Miles or the rest of the band during that European tour, captured on the 4 CD box set: Miles Davis & John Coltrane-The Final Tour: The Bootleg Series Vol. 6.
This plush and historically important set features 5 different shows; two in Paris, two in Stockholm and one in Copenhagen. Trane sounds frustrated throughout these shows, as if he’s searching for a way to implement his ever-bourgeoning style into fragments of the past from which he fears is keeping him stagnant.
Miles and Coltrane are joined by the brilliant Wynton Kelly on piano, Paul Chambers on bass and the dynamic Jimmy Cobb on drums. “All Of You,” “Bye Bye Blackbird,” and “Oleo” from the two shows at The Olympia Theater in Paris are harrowing. Trane’s sound is closer to his Impulse records works than his previous sessions for Atlantic and Prestige Records. But no matter how far out Trane flies, Miles acts as the galvanizing center piece, giving the music a thematic sense that is often needed after a whirlwind Trane solo from 1960. Miles’ chops are in top form, in fact, this set features some of Miles’ finest work. “All Blues” from The Copenhagen show is a prime example of this. Kelly, Chambers and Cobb are stellar and keep the music grounded along with Miles.
On “Fran Dance” from the first Stockholm show, Trane is playing beyond the stated changes. It’s fair to say that it feels as if Trane is practicing on stage during this and most of the performances on this set instead of focusing on the theme of the compositions. Magically it all makes for some compelling music. Miles must have known that it would both shock the audiences and work in a way that might not be realized for decades to come. There are even some whistles, boos and shouts from the audience after Trane solos, which I’m sure added to Trane’s growing frustration.
Miles was still able to get Trane’s most lyrical playing during this short era on “‘Round Midnight” from the second show at The Olympia in Paris. Although it still feels light years from the album version from over four years earlier, it’s Trane’s least frenetic solo on this collection. Wynton Kelly’s fleet fingered, blues tinged style is both elegant and imaginative. Jimmy Cobb’s sense of dynamics behind the drum kit is awe-inspiring and Paul “Mr. PC” Chambers plays the bass with a bold and powerfully confident ease on every single track.
This is not the kind of music that the listener will “get” with the first listen but the most rewarding music, especially in jazz, is most often like that. The contrasts, tensions and newer arrangements of these Miles classics makes this collection essential for both hardcore jazz lovers and jazz tourists alike.