Al Ashley: These Are Them

Al Ashley
These Are Them

During the Dave Liebman performance to which my attention was drawn by a local press Arts page, I boarded an aircraft several hundred miles away (some hours late), on the second leg of a trip which prevented my hearing him with local German piano, bass and drums. The notes to this set say that he hasn’t previously recorded with an organ, guitar, and drums trio, although the range of colour the trio here manage does have some overlap with Liebman’s recordings under his own name. His remarkable accomplishment should by now be no secret, unlike the work of the drummer and leader here. Alvin “Al” Ashley is one of the not at all known who ought by no means to be neglected just because he has functioned in mostly unrecorded settings and has enough of a name among musicians to be quoted quite blithely as a teacher by men much younger and more prominent internationally. There are probably enough such figures to make the jazz enthusiast feel a little encouraged, though not so many as to warrant any of them being taken for granted.

The set opens with something akin to a fusion sound, Oliver von Essen tuning his organ in that direction and Rick Stone fitting in on guitar. After the ensemble theme statement business, Liebman puts down his tenor and the at times nicely scrambling organist and guitarist return to a genre like Jack McDuff or Jimmy Smith, though a sound of their own. Von Essen tends to do his soloing in the tenor saxophone register — maybe his mother was inspired by a tenorist when she was pregnant with him. He never gets loud, and indeed nobody here takes the volume up, except at the end of one track where Liebman gets wilder and screamier (without going over to ugly) rising in the direction of a stratosphere he never reaches on this disc: since the raising of volume and pitch occur in the course of the set’s one slow concluding fade. Von Essen, when he gets hotter, simply makes an electronically more distorted, in effect hoarser sound.

On the title track, Liebman plays soprano, his tone slipping in a way some Oriental horns do — although he never sounds as if he’s playing other than a saxophone. There’s a passage in duet with the excellent drummer, who throughout the set sometimes anticipates the beat and sometimes stays on the beat with exceptional precision.

The more velvety sound Liebman’s tenor can manage shows up well on “Perfect Day”, a sort of bouncy-paced ballad composed by von Essen. Here there is room for complaint, for what could have lifted the set above the merely pretty good would have been, for example, something slow, a genuine ballad performance; and there and maybe somewhere else as well as a variation in pace an effort at rhythmic simplicity. Doubled-up bossa and other Latin rhythms, some not that obviously Spanish-tinged, can be heard throughout on what can be fairly called a happy record. Happy records don’t attain the maximum possible. Rick Stone, composer of a nice bebop theme “Relative Minority” (which sounds familiar), is very good as a standard guitarist in an organ group. On a couple of titles he shows an interestingly uncommon gift of entirely unpredictable timing, fragmentary phrases making unexpected entries against the sustained swing movement.

“Blue Note” demonstrates Liebman’s talent for a multi-noted skating on light-toned tenor. “Look at What We Do to Ourselves” is his own composition and his tone has a harder edge possibly learned from Coltrane but not in any respect imitative of that master from whom Liebman learned.

The palette is deliberately restricted, Liebman achieving a considerable range within what he can do on tenor, but von Essen even more notably demonstrating very deft footwork and becoming to all intents and purposes pretty good sheerly as a bassist using the pedals. Is he related to Eric von Essen, who played nice bass with Jimmy Rowles quite a time back? The sleeve sometimes calls him von Esson, and the tribute to Fats Wright features as well as Liebman’s soprano a clumsy mistitling — “Write” indeed! Careless.

Judged as a jam on themes entirely from the band (Ashley three, von Essen two, Stone and Liebman one each) this comes out pretty well.

RATING 6 / 10