May 22, 2024

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CD review: The Kaleidoscope Quintet – Dancing On The Edge 2020: Video, CD cover

The Kaleidoscope Quintet, a stellar collaborative project co-led by master saxophonists Dave Liebman and Joe Lovano (also co-leaders of Saxophone Summit), includes vocalist Judi Silvano, bassist Tony Marino and drummer Michael Stephans. A memorable, effusive live performance occurred at Pennsylvania’s Deer Head Inn in 2013 is immortalized by Dancing on the Edge, a recording comprising five exciting compositions – two from each saxophonist and one beloved jazz standard – delivered in celebratory mode.

The enthusiastic enjoyment of the group is on display in Lovano’s “Topsy Turvy”, a wonderful piece culled from his 1995 album Rush Hour. Silvano’s vocal integration with the reeds definitely adds extra melodic fuel to the fire, in a piece that relies on the post-bop expertise of Lovano, the ebullient note sequences of Liebman, and stuttering rhythmic figures approved by these three soloists. They trade fours with the drummer, before joining again with the purpose of re-establishing the theme.

Their majestic on-the-fly creativity comes to our attention again on “Blackwell’s Message”, another Lovano composition (written for the late drummer Ed Blackwell in 1993) that starts off with communicative flutes in consonance before exposing rich unisons over a simple bass pedal. There’s an excellent vocal solo, a change of pace suggested by Lovano, and curious punctuations in Liebman’s expressionistic shrieks. All delivered with a phenomenal energy.

The set’s only standard here is “There Is No Greater Love”, a trio effort with Liebman leaning on the avant-garde side over the typical progression laid down by Marino and rhythmically uphold by Stephans. However, “Day and Night” is in fact a Liebman-penned contrafact of “Night and Day”. Wielding his soprano, the saxophonist revolves around the melody while the rhythm section encourages him to expand with well-coordinated movements and occasional arrhythmic provocations. For a while, we have Lovano’s tenor over bass only, and it’s Stephans who finishes things off with elaborate drum sketches.

The conclusion comes with Liebman’s “Get Me Back to the Apple”, an old tune that serves as a glorious display for the reedmen’s soloing skills. Lovano suggests the melody of “Sentimental Journey” in his discourse, and during the animated conversation with Liebman, a jaw-dropping show of multiphonics and powerful intonations occur.

The Kaleidoscope Quintet is not a band with recording or touring history. It’s a moniker adapted by a stellar group of musicians for this special performance captured live at the historic Deer Head Inn in 2013. That’s not to say they may resurface again as Dot Time Records is calling this their debut. Even though the two major draws of the group are saxophonists and kindred spirits Dave Liebman and Joe Lovano, Dancing On the Edge owes mostly to the group’s drummer, Michael Stephans, in terms of both the occasion for and the name of the band. The other quintet members are vocalist Judi Silvano (Lovano’s wife) and bassist Tony Marino. Silvano is also a renowned painter whose original painting, commissioned specially for this project, graces the cover.

Stephans is not only an accomplished four-decade career drummer but he is also an acclaimed poet and author. It was the publication of his book Experiencing Jazz: A Listener’s Companion which brought about this performance. Published in 2013, the book is an expansive survey on the art of listening to and enjoying jazz. Dave Liebman and Joe Lovano contributed prominently to the volume (Liebman even contributed the Preface), and so the two musical compatriots joined Stephans for the launch party and celebratory performance.

The kaleidoscope has also intrigued Stephans, who sees the instrument as a reflection of his own artistic endeavors. “As improvising musicians in performance, our quintet thrives in a kaleidoscopic world where we are independent “voices” who – while initially unique in our own identities, come together and become part of a larger sonic entity, only to shape and re-shape ourselves throughout each performance; that is, we move to re-assemble sounds and are ephemeral – constantly changing musical shapes and visions,” he explains in the liner notes. And so, the name of this group is a particularly apt for these five, multifaceted sonic explorers.

The Kaleidoscope Quintet, is without a chordal instrument such as a piano or guitar, the impetus centered on the front line. They performed a varied set for free, explorative jazz that night from which five cuts were culled for this recording – “Blackwell’s Message” and “Topsy Turvy” by Lovano, “Day and Night” and “Get Me Back To The Apple” by Liebman and a lively rendition of the trusted standard “There Is No Greater Love.”  Silvano joins the frontline, lending her expressive and singular wordless vocals to the two Lovano-penned compositions, as her voice literally dances through the changes, almost like a third horn. This is not new for fans of Lovano as Silvano has appeared on many of his recordings. Likewise, the paring of Liebman and Lovano’s dueling horns is certainly not new either. The two have appeared together most notably on their co-led endeavor Saxophone Summit: Gathering of Spirits with the late Michael Brecker and as co-leaders on The Music of John Coltrane – Compassion. The two trade solos, share some ensemble work and engage in several great exchanges with the rhythm section, especially Stephans.

1.Topsy Turvy 10:05
2.Day and Night 14:06
3.Blackwell’s Message 18:13
4.There Is No Greater Love 08:04
5.Get Me Back To The Apple 10:14

JOE LOVANO – Tenor Saxophone, Flute
DAVE LIEBMAN – Tenor and Soprano Saxophones, Wooden Flute

Kaleidoscope Quintet: Dancing On The Edge – Dot Time Records

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