David Liebman

I'm not really sure exactly where or when I met Mike or Rhoda. But for a few years, whenever I would go to the Miami area to visit my family, we would do some playing together in various settings. And most often, the music was written by Rhoda. Finally, after several recording attempts over the years, I suggested that once and for all we get this music on tape.

Mike and Rhoda are very interesting and atypical musicians. Being blind from birth, Mike has honed his ears, technique and general instincts to a very high level. He has the ability to immediately repeat what he hears. Besides memorizing this pretty complex music, his dexterity is obvious; as for example, how he holds the vamp in seven with the left hand against the right hand lines on Aurora's Dance. I particularly love his touch and how lyrically he plays on the introduction to The Empress. Finally, just the sheer musicality necessary to play in such an exposed setting as a duo without visual cues is astounding.

On the other hand, Rhoda, who is by and large self taught, amazes me with what she has written. Although there are some jazz-like influences, the music has an almost austere quality which one hears often in 20th century contemporary piano music. The interaction between the right and left hands at times results in unusual poly-chords which are quite a challenge to play over. Finally, the rhythmic requirements of this music are not clichéd nor predictable. The music reveals a deep commitment and conviction, which means the players have to really dig in.

This was an intense recording date and the results substantiate the feeling I had as we played. This music is not for the faint of heart!

 

 

 

Michael Gerber

It was a typical humid Miami morning when Rhoda Averbach first came to me for piano lessons. But typical, Rhoda was not. Very soon into the lesson I realized amazingly that despite her having little knowledge of music theory, she was able to compose. She played Trane and, as I remember, there was one phrase in the entire piece that was not pedagogically correct. It was harmonically strange to me and somewhat shocking. So I, the good pedagogue, suggested that she change it. Fortunately she did not, for when I became more familiar with her style, I realized that I was in the presence of an innovator. The next time I heard Trane was not in a teaching role and I allowed myself to listen differently. The sound was beautiful as it resonated with my heart and soul, and I was moved to tears by its disconcerting power. Rhoda had intuitively transgressed rules to get an emotional effect. It worked. The impact of her music was so strong that the consequent feelings evoked, motivated me to share it with the world. I began to learn her pieces, and have over the years played Rhoda's music in many concerts. Now, confident that we have achieved a work of art it is my honor to share with David Liebman the recording of this album.

Rhoda Averbach

When David Liebman, Michael Gerber and I finished making this recording, we were hungry and wanted to celebrate. The session had taken place at Red Rock Recording Studio, a singular and solitary electronic construct oddly situated in the refuge of the Poconos where the only thing around us was wind, trees and the inexorable silence of snow. We left in our cars, David leading the way over narrow, stone spattered roads to a mountainside bistro at the edge of the woods. It was a winter night and the fireplace inside the restaurant enveloped us in a glow. We dined sumptuously on roast duck and venison. David drank martinis (and was very relaxed). There was great pleasure in each other's company as we were warmed by the spirit amongst us. David, Mike and I live in different states and lead separate lives, but what brought us together had no regard for distance. We were an intersection of souls through which stark yet tender truths had spoken, passionately and without reserve. And after the tape stopped rolling, when we sat back and listened through large studio speakers, we knew that this music would endure. For me personally, this was the first time a set of my compositions had been embodied into one integral, cohesive work, definitively performed by two Souls and Masters, David and Mike. And in the improvisations, deep and incisive, each piece held treasures that were the incarnation of Mike's and David's own expression and indelible knowledge. Since i began writing music, I had always hoped for a sense of unity, purpose and mutual accomplishment that I had not found through other endeavors; but on that night life had given me enough to dissolve disappointments and send those demons whimpering back to their lairs. As we sat around the table conversing about everything, a statement was made that will follow me all the days of my life: "It was good," one of us said. David raised his martini, and we all agreed.

One of the great pleasures of having known Rhoda was to observe how she composed. She studied classical piano repertoire intermittently with private teachers throughout her life. She also studied theory for a short while with Joe ladone, a disciple of Hindemith, and composition for a year with Philip Evans, a former teacher at the Manhattan School of Music. But in the main she relied on the ears. What she did was improvise on the piano until she either heard something she liked or found what she was looking for. 'then she would look at her hands to see what notes she was playing, and write them out on staff paper, revising and organizing until the piece was completed. She was strongly influenced by classical composers, both traditional (i.e., Brahms and Beethoven) and more modern (i.e., Bartok and Prokoviev), and as she listened more and more to jazz masters such as John Coltrane, McCoy Tyner and Wayne Shorter, her writing changed characteristically. It amazed me that sounds she would hear from both my jazz and classical practicing would creep into her compositions without needing to know techncally what they were. I kept asking myself the question, "How can somebody with such little theoretical knowledge be able to so intricately organize the complexity of sounds that she was finding?" To this day, the only plausible answer I have is hers: `I know by my inner sensations. When the notes are right, the energy wells up in me and streams exhilaratingly outward into my skin. I am literally "thrilled" physically.'

Rhoda and I lived together for several years, where I was able to experience the process as her writing matured. She has one of the most unusual rhythmic styles of any composer I have played. Her use of sudden time signature changes, which is never contrived, evolves from her own sense of motion and steers the music in unanticipated directions. Having the ability to mix tonal "colors" as a painter does shades and hues, she has found a distinctive way of combining jazz and classical idioms, resulting in an evocative approach to harmony. With primal honesty, her music traverses the gamut of human emotion, from joy to sadness, humor to gravity, anger to tenderness; but due to a strong sense of form and continuity, perhaps enhanced by her classical background, this passion is never sentimentally out of control.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For me to get ready for this recording was much like preparing for a classical concert. As in classical composition, the delicate nuances of dynamics and phrasing in Rhoda's music must be felt, understood and observed in order for it to breathe the life that was intended. But this is not inevitable. For though I have experienced the writing of these compositions, studied their intricacies and worked on every dynamic, when Rhoda sits down to play her pieces, 1 realize I have not quite arrived at interpreting this music. Thank you, Rhoda, for your immeasurable influence on my musical growth.

I first became acquainted with David Liebman's playing on an Elvin Jones album, Live at the Lighthouse. Never before had I heard a sound like his. There was no piano on the album and I was transfixed by the soulfulness of the two saxophones and their interaction with the bass and drums. I wore that album out! My next David Liebman encounter was with Sweet Hands which incorporates Indian rhythms and motivs among its diverse influences. 1 always had a love of Indian and other ethnic music, but had not absorbed them into my playing. This album connected me to realms of new possibilities as a jazz improviser. 'I"hen, around 1979 or `80, a friend gave me a Liebman/Beirach duo album which was a turning point in how I viewed my role as a pianist playing with a saxophonist. In my duo playing up to then, I would generally comp chord changes for the soloist. But Beirach used a more independent, complementary approach. Rather than merely accompanying and completing Liebman's statements, the piano part was harmonically, rhythmically and melodically complete within itself.

This last album had another significance for me: sometimes a confluence. of events can be so strange and extraordinary that we want to know whether they were coincidental or mediated by destiny. If destiny is real, then this album was also a portent of the collaboration that gave birth to Souls & Masters. It was entitled Forgotten Fantasy.

Some time early on, I had introduced the album to Rhoda with an apocalyptic vision of how David's sound would be a perfect complement to the angular melodies and dark ambiance that her harmonies create. Rhoda was stunned by its depth and felt a connection immediately. David and I were friends and it so happened that he periodically came to South Florida to visit family. Thus, during one of those visits, we were able to hire him to record three of Rhoda's compositions. The session turned out very rewarding and a bond formed among the three of us, so that over the next several years we had many opportunities to work together again. There was always a gig, concert or recording event where we played music in many different contexts, including our own originals, those of other band members, jazz standards, and Rhoda's compositions, and our improvisational approach to her music was thus able to coalesce. But something else happened. During the earlier of these performances, having listened so much to David's recordings, I found myself automatically responding to him in a way I thought Beirach would have. However, the more we worked together, the more these ingrained images of Liebman and Beirach naturally relented to what was happening between Liebman and me. We developed a strong feel for each other's playing and an interaction that was based on our own identities and musical roots. Among other things, I learned when to lead and when to follow, giving myself to the moment. While this was happening between David and me, Rhoda's writing was moving towards chromaticism, more in alignment with David's and my approach to harmony. And later, David had the idea and conviction for us to perform this music as a duo rather than in our usual band setting. We had fused. When finally we went into the studio to record Souls & Masters, something intangible emerged from within me. I felt a new confidence and freedom that I previously had not achieved. The result was not the hypothetical vision that had originally brought us together, but an integrity and distinction that evolved as the image faded away, We had our own sound.

There are only a very few players with whom I have worked where I feel that I mature each time from the experience. David Liebman is one of those creative sources. To interact with him musically is one of the most empathetic experiences I have ever had. David is always in the moment, being able to spontaneously shape the music in any direction he wants to go, or, while enhancing and supporting others, merge with wherever the music leads - the epitome of improvisation. His vast knowledge, endless reservoir of melodic ideas, and ability to instantly create tonal shifts which interweave in and out of chord changes are partly what make this possible. But there is more. Without wisdom, maturity and discretion, mere knowledge can be random and aimless. What I love most about David's playing is that no matter where the music is going or how far we reach, David has a total conception, from beginning to end, of the meaning of the music, the structure in which he is improvising and what he wants to say. He tells a story. When playing music with David 1 feel a freedom that I can experience with no one else. Both knowing you personally, David, and having played with you musically are experiences that I will cherish for the rest of my life.

To sum up, in an industry (the music industry) which is by and large concerned with entertainment, a unique event has occurred, a body of music has been produced that comes from and resonates with subtle yet delicious deep fibers of the musical soul. If allowed, it transports you to other realms yet "holds you together" (entertains). Souls & Masters is also an album which stands in a class by itself by its artistic merit.