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.