This is what you get when you pair one fine composer-bandleader-bassist with a rag-tag group of improvisational malcontents who know how to stir up a set of arrangements into a noxious brew of little big-band aesthetics and creative anarchy. Add to this mixture to four soloists from outside the ensemble -- for whom particular pieces of music is written -- fold in, stir radically, and allow the air of freedom to penetrate thoroughly. The end result is Pomegranate. Steuart Liebig's all-star band of improvisers -- that includes the composer on bass, drummer Alex Cline, violinist Jeff Gauthier, trombonist Scott Ray, John Fumo on trumpet, and Ellen Burr on flute -- back four soloists in as many compositions designed to create spectral and textural possibilities along a chosen field of harmonic convergences and free-form intervallic encounters, offering a wider than intended color palette for both soloist and ensemble, thereby stretching composition and players to their respective limits. The soloists -- saxophonist Vinny Golia, French horn player Tom Varner, bassist Mark Dresser, and guitar god Nels Cline -- all respond with aplomb, taste, and the fiery awareness of this unique opportunity. While each of the four compositions here is nothing less than stellar in its complexity and lush arrangement for both group and soloist to take direction from, it is Dresser's "The Motionless Blue of Fallen Skies" and Cline's "The Darkness of Each Endless Fall" that stand out. On the Dresser tune, the bassist's bowing and pizzicato abilities are put to use in a series of tone row explorations that give way to extended passages of microtonal improvisation, along the perimeter of an ensemble playing in both 12-tone and modal sequences (alternating effectively between sequences), and creating for Dresser a structured yet fluid space for lyricism and harmonic assonance within a set of parameters of his own choosing. In Cline's piece, Liebig has given the guitarist an architectural largesse within which all of the differing chromatic paradoxes of that instrument may reveal themselves as harmonic or chromatic possibilities for the ensemble to reach (a mirror image almost from the Dresser work). For all its squealing, ripping excess, Cline's guitar has a firm hold on the melodic considerations of his own hearing, and the result for the listener is no less than thrilling. Ultimately, this disc proves a pleasant, revelatory surprise for those who thought Liebig mainly a fine bassist. His compositional and arranging abilities as showcased on this fine disc reveal him to be an important voice in the future of avant-garde music.
Thom Jurek, All Music Guide


Bassist Steuart Liebig straddles the line between free improvisation and mid-sized group composition. He does this using a seven-piece band called Kammerstig, which provides solid but frenetic playing. Additionally, each of the four compositions on Pomegranate, which sit in the 15- to 22-minute range, is specifically composed for each of the four guest soloists. Liebig gets the best of both worlds, mixing established chemistry with unexpected surprises. It's a far cry from his work with Les McCann, but it's quite obvious that Liebig has a distinct affinity for the varied guest; the track for guitarist Nels Cline sounds markedly different from the track for Tom Varner. And Vinny Golia's cut flat out rips with its fiery reed playing.
R.I.Y.L.: Dave Douglas, Mark Dresser, Bar Kokba
Tad Hendrickson: CMJ New Music Report Issue: 726


What comes to mind is a musical genre called "Third Stream." A term curtailed in the fifties by critics attempting to discribe inventions of avant-garde musicians; Charlie Mingus, George Russell, John Lewis, Jimmy Giuffre and Gunther Schuller. This composition by Steuart Liebig is of this. The music is incredible and scary because of its stark difference to the current flavor. In that programmers may not know what to do with it. Unfortunate for them. Because it should be showcased to jazz listeners. It 's very modern, fresh and relevant to the new music. Hopefully, this is performed in places such as the Hollywood Bowl, probably along the lines of a classical music presentation. "Pomegranate" is new, exciting and revolutionary in respect to the current state. Hopefully other programmers will relax and go with it, even if the selections are 20 minutes in length. They don't what they and their audience are missing. I'm reminded of composer/arranger Bob Graettinger composition, "City of Glass," Stan Kenton, Charley Mingus workshop music and George Russell writing in the sixties with this piece. Pass along my congratulations to the fine musicianship displayed on this composition and to Steuart Liebig for stretching out and showing true spirit on "Pomegranate."

The Cryptogramophone CD, a Steuart Liebig new music suite "Pomegranate" is a nice surprise. The cover design would steer you to the classical music section at your neighborhood Virgin Music Store. "That's downstairs in the jazz department," the woman would say after looking it up in the computer. After a few listens and overcome with visions of Gunther Schuller, George Russell, Eric Dolphy, concerto Charley Mingus and THE THIRD WAVE of the fifties we begin the program with the selection; "the motionless blue of fallen skies" featuring East Coast nu jazz player Mark Dresser, contrabass. The names of the tunes are decidedly Rilke. Since college, I always thought Rilke was way over the top. My writer friend Harvey, true Rilke fanatic says, You have to step back, relax and you dig that Rilke packed as much imagery as possible in every line. Good poetry is to be pondered. Hence the names of every selection in Pomegranate. Clashing nu classical with jazz imagery and enterprising and various contemporary garnish. As if they put Einstein in charge of the fireworks at Disneyland. Every night it's different, and it all works. As free as Third Stream always wants to be.
Dick Crockett's jazz show in Sacramento, CA. Dick Crockett,
"The Voice" 88.7 Access Sacramento


From the very relevant music scene. French horn player, Tom Varner (Kenton would have loved this guy) is featured on a Rilke flavored, "Widening Circles Reach Across The World." This cd is new, refreshing, and very important as the nu- music moves ahead. The tune segues nicely from a chamber music atmosphere into a full steam jazz slopes and riffs and back. Liebig demonstrates a command in his writing that warrants our consideration. This band would perform the best in an intimate concert hall, where the listener can hear and feel every artist's subtle nuance effectively portrayed in this new cd.
Dick Crockett's jazz show in Sacramento, CA. Dick Crockett,
"The Voice" 88.7 Access Sacramento


STEUART LIEBIG-Pomegranate (Cryptogramophone 109) Featuring Nels & Alex Cline, Vinny Golia, Mark Dresser, John Fumo, Jeff Gauthier and Steuart on contrabass guitars and compositions. Steuart is an incredible bassist from LA who has played Gregg Bendian's Interzone, as well as with numerous Nine Winds all-stars. This extraordinary cd straddles many worlds between free and composed, chamber ensemble and small-large groups explorations. Steuart's composing really brings the best out of each soloists' range! An outstanding and engaging adventure!
DMG Pre-Newsletter 58


STEUART LIEBIG-Pomegranate (Cryptogramophone 109) Steuart is a phenomenal bassist and composer from the LA scene who has four excellent releases out on Nine Winds and Cadence Jazz labels - while many of us only know him from his work with Gregg Bendian's Interzone or the brothers Cline. His fine ensemble here includes Ellen Burr on flutes, Eric Barber on clarinet, John Fumo on trumpets, Scot Ray on trombone, Jeff Gauthier on violins, Alex Cline on drums & percussion and Mr. Liebig on contrabassguitars. 'Pomegranate' is an outstanding suite in four parts, with each part featuring a different and extraordinary soloist - Tom Varner on French horn, Mark Dresser on contrabass, Vinny Golia on sopranino sax and our main man Nels Cline on electric guitar. Each of the four sections is named after lines from the poetry of Rilke. "widening circles reach across the world" features Tom Varner and it is both complex and engaging, somewhere between modern jazz and contemporary classical - the amazing rhythm team consistently tight and working their way through a variety of difficult sections. Varner's French horn also tells a long and winding story throughout as the rest of the ensemble play rich and ever shifting harmonic colors and densities. Besides the four main soloists the other fine players also get chances to play inspired solos together and apart. Mark Dresser is featured on "the motionless blue of fallen skies" and also moves cautiously through the evolving terrain playing both intriguing composed sections and improvised parts as well - yet everything is highly focused and the thread which holds it together is seamless and never-ending. It is easy to forget which soloist is being featured since the playing and composing is so strong throughout. Dresser does a marvelous job of playing his part just right and rarely going as far out as he often does in his own music. It is great to hear him in a much different setting. Vinny Golia's feature is called "flare up like flame and create dark shadows" and Vinny never holds back - pushing his sopranino sax through varies hoops of fire and matching wits with the especially inspired and intense trumpet playing of John Fumo and the equally fiery clarinet playing of Eric Barber! I dig how the fire spirits erupt quick swinging sections and then the rhythm team drops out as layers of horns and strings spin furious webs of inter-connected activity. Golia never ceases to amaze, no matter which of the dozen or so reeds he plays - he is unstoppable, often explosive and filled with flashes of invention here! "the darkness of each endless fall" features our pal and guitar hero Nels Cline and it is a delight to hear him in such a different context playing challenging parts with the intricate horns, strings and rhythm team surrounding his flashes of brilliance. Nels also does a wonderful job telling his part of the ongoing story through his ultra-quick and rather warped guitar picking - bending them notes is his own distinctive way and spinning lines with the equally phenomenal violin of Jeff Gauthier. Once more Steuart's composing streamlines any excess while constantly challenging the members of the ensemble to play their parts and also embrace moments of controlled chaos - yet all is still connected through an almost invisible thread. Nels does an amazing job of playing twisted little knotty sounds in one section, which fits just right with the off-kilter horns surrounding it. An outstanding and exciting work throughout which you just don't want to end! Bravo to Steuart Liebig and company!
DMG Newsletter 58



One of the real contributions of 21st century composers may be to create genuine fusion sounds that draw upon jazz, free improv, pop and contemporary classical music. With this impressive release, it seems that bass guitarist/composer Steuart Liebig is well on the way to realizing this.

These four concertos for selected soloists plus a seven piece ensemble reference pop, jazz, new and so-called serious music in the ensembles. But the soloists' contributions wouldn't exist except for the extended tradition of jazz and improvised sounds. Basically, the Culver City, Calif.-based Liebig joins other musical thinkers in North America, Europe and Asia in brewing up the perfect admixture of sounds.

Like many of his contemporaries, he himself has moved from idiom to idiom in past. But, unlike many, he's managed to meld these different influences into his writing. Veteran of time with soul-jazz pianist Les McCann, singer/songwriter Michel Penn and BLOC, his own rock band, the bass guitarist also studied classical double bass at the university level and collaborated with such other far-sighted composer/instrumentalists as Vinny Golia and Julius Hemphill.

On its own, though, Pomegranate, with its four selections titled with lines from the poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke, manages to move forward in such a away that it negates many of the concerns that have disquieted so-called Third Stream composers since the 1950s. Briefly, by carefully marshalling each cited style in the music, but by writing only enough to still allow the soloist and section players their freedom, he's created overlong pieces -- the shortest is a touch under 15 minutes -- that never wear out their welcome.

Each featured player is also given enough space to do what he does best. Most remarkable is guitarist Nels Cline, who on his own discs is prone to excessive guitar hero posturing. His turn here, though, appears to be the most successful melding of rock-influenced electric guitar and ensemble since Larry Coryell recorded Michael Mantler's "Communications #9" with The Jazz Composer's Orchestra in 1968. After a display of rock music flare launching and blues licks, Cline settles down into a sympathetic modern jazz groove, helped not a little by repetitive leitmotivs from the band. Feedback laden guitar is matched with John Fumo speedy trumpet lines at one point, while quasi heavy metal lead lines have to pause for a pastoral violin interlude, which is cushioned by the massed woodwinds. Throughout, frontmen and backing musicians are kept on the straight and narrow by Liebig's bass guitar and Alex Cline's drums, which modulate from hard rock beats to jazz timekeeping and back again.

Probably because it's an instrument the composer feels most comfortable writing for, bassist Mark Dresser's showcase is the most spectacular, and at nearly 22 minutes, the longest. Drawing on Dresser's jazz chops and classical smarts, Liebig has him concentrating on arco and the bass clef. Playing the equivalent of musical tennis doubles, the bassist finds himself shadowed by one or another instrument each time he heads off on a solo flight. At one point it may be Scot Ray's resonant trombone, at others Ellen Burr's gritty flute or delicate piccolo, with Jeff Gauthier half-romantic, half raunchy 4-or 5-string electric violin and an almost Classical sounding trumpet also getting into the act. Sounding as many as three notes at once, Dresser works his way through the piece, using the bow, his fingers and the sides of his bass to put the improv backbone into the somewhat precious accompaniment with which he has to blend.

Burr's breathy flute takes centrestage again when she goes head to head with Tom Varner, probably the most accomplished jazz French hornist, on his feature. With a plushy tone, Varner gives a profoundly modern cast to his solos, even when faced with a neo rondo from the strings and horns. More flexible then even a valve trombone, the hornist leaps from counterpoint with Burr to several out-and-out jazzy interludes, aided and abetted by the rhythm section's straightahead rhythmic beat that wouldn't be out of place in a late 1950s Teddy Charles or Gil Evans session.

Any lingering neo-classicism is blown away by Golia's sopranino saxophone on another composition. When the mellow repeated theme threatens to get out of hand, the reedman forges his solo with such intensity that soon the other woodwinds are offering atonal interludes that owe a lot more to Ascension than the Art of the Fugue. Double and triple-tonguing, Golia stops time as he probes the heavens, gradually arching like a rainbow over first the woodwinds and then the standard bass and drums accompaniment.

Should interesting writing, virtuoso soloing, tight ensembles and one glimpse at improvised music's future interest you, then definitely look out for this CD. Ken Waxman,


POMEGRANATE is a contemporary jazz masterpiece, a set of four jazz concerti, composed by composer/bassist Steuart Liebig. What makes this an unusual standout CD and a remarkable recording is that it successfully blends contemporary jazz with classical. Soloists include Nels Cline on guitar, Mark Dresser on bass, Tom Varner on French Horn, Vinny Golia on saxophone, Ellen Burr on flue and piccolo, among many other fine musicians, who accompany Steuart Liebig on bass and contrabass guitars.

The four selections are "Widening Circles Reach Across the World" (14:58), The Motionless Blue of Fallen Skies" (21:48), Flare Up Like Flame and Create Dark Shadows" (17:48), and "The Darkness of Each Endless Fall" (17:23). These four concerti jazz works will surprise and delight jazz listeners.

For something special and out of the ordinary, POMEGRANATE will find its way into the hearts of jazz listeners everywhere that enjoy this blend of contemporary jazz and classical aspects. A winner!!! Flawless performances by each musician place this CD in top form.
Lee Prosser,


Even in its quieter moments, Steuart Liebig's new ensemble effort, Pomegranate, projects a sense of excitement. Sometimes it's the spark of discovery, other times it's the joy of companionship, and often (not to be underrated) it's the unexpected pleasure of getting lost and then finding the way back home.

On Pomegranate Liebig's tunes travel along a route consisting of city streets, back roads, and barely-marked trails through the woods... and in the end, the path itself bears just as much interest as the destination. The composer's approach on this record emphasizes the intimate juxtaposition of formally arranged structures and head-long group improvisation. Certain phrases emerge as pure chamber music: each note comes from a staff on the sheet music (the city streets). But these blocks of protected harmony and color blend together with less-obvious musical forms where certain textural or tonal constraints frame a given player's explorations in-the-moment (the back roads). And at times these tunes just break free, allowing several players to pursue an intimate conversation without fixed rules or a predetermined endpoint (the trails). The stark contrast in many of these tunes comes from moments when a backwoods trail suddenly hits main street, or when a seemingly straightahead road smacks right into the jungle.

All this talk about composition understates the vital interactive roles of the eight members in this particular improvising group. The octet on this record consists of seven members in a core ensemble, offering a loose framework for four additional guest members to lend individual personality and contrast. While each of the seven core players gets plenty of opportunity to stretch out, the eighth voice really influences the flavor of each of these tunes. French horn player Tom Varner's contribution to "Widening Circles," for example, is a kaleidoscopic spectrum of color and texture. On the other hand, "The Dark," which centers around Nels Cline's explosive guitar work, has more of a punchy, angular feel.

Pomegranate is by no means an obvious record. It takes some time to dig into and truly appreciate. And be warned: the broad range of colors and textures here certainly never shy from extremes. But for listeners curious about fresh ideas of jazz composition--and for those open to complex larger-ensemble sounds--this disc offers many fascinating layers of depth.
Nils Jacobson, all about


Big picture

IF I WERE a composer, maybe I could create something beautiful out of the monkey-mind ramblings that keep me tossing and turning when I wake up at three in the morning. I wouldn't try to spin gold from the anxiety-blown pinwheel of trivial concerns such as deadlines and downsizing. I'd work from big themes, like the story I saw on a cable-TV nature show about diseased fan corals in the Caribbean that had been infected by spores in dust blown across the Atlantic in the jet stream from drought-stricken lands in Africa. The music would embody that entire web of cause and effect, not with cheap world beat grafts of rhythms from here and instruments from there but with a grand organic sweep that transcends genres.

I have no idea if Steuart Liebig lies awake under the covers, mentally transforming his night sweats into complex musical strategies. But the four majestic pieces of music on his new Cryptogramophone CD, Pomegranate, do create the sonic equivalent of that extended, sometimes discomfiting, sometimes luxurious moment when the stuff of dreams clings to consciousness and softens the thrust of rational thought. The effect starts with the titles, taken from poems by Rainer Maria Rilke: "Widening Circles Reach across the World," "The Motionless Blue of Fallen Skies," "Flare Up like Flame and Create Dark Shadows," and "The Darkness of Each Endless Fall." Turning those suggestive phrases into even more evocative soundscapes are the Culver City-based composer on six-string contrabass guitars and his Kammerstig sextet: Ellen Burr, flutes and piccolo; Eric Barber, clarinet; John Fumo, trumpet and flügelhorn; Scot Ray, trombone; Jeff Gauthier, electric violins; and Alex Cline, drums and percussion.

Each piece on Pomegranate features an eighth performer - French horn virtuoso Tom Varner, contrabassist Mark Dresser, sopranino saxophonist Vinny Golia, or electric guitarist Nels Cline - soloing at length in quasi-concerto contexts written by Liebig and improvised by the ensemble. Although influenced by Stravinsky, Mahler, and Webern, performed by musicians associated with the jazz avant-garde, and shaped by the unpredictable interweaving of written thematic material and improvisations, these pieces don't come off like diluted Third Stream exercises. As Liebig explains in the liner notes, they are experiments in the juxtaposition of freedom to control, and his band of imaginative players pushes each aspect to its limit. Although Pomegranate has obvious roots in European classical and African American jazz traditions (with Nels Cline hurling slabs and shards of noisy post-Hendrix rock into the mix), you can practically feel the rumble of tectonic plates shifting under the ocean of sound.

It's exactly the kind of continental-drift music I've been seeking out in this everything-has-changed period, when what Italian author Umberto Eco (in a newly translated collection of essays, Five Moral Pieces) identifies as "Ur-Fascist" qualities - including the "fear of difference," the "cult of action for action's sake," the obsession with conspiracies, and the identification of dissent with betrayal and pacifism with collusion - impel all too many of us to hunker down with our various scriptures in our various flag-festooned caves.

Liebig's collaborator and labelmate Alex Cline raises the global-unity stakes even higher on The Constant Flame, his follow-up to 1999's Sparks Fly Upward. His six-member ensemble assumes global orchestral proportions through the addition of mbira, Autoharp, gongs, bells, synthesizer, and miscellaneous drums to the lineup of voice (Aina Kemanis), violins (Gauthier), keyboards (Wayne Peet), electric guitar (G.E. Stinson), bass (Michael Elizondo), and his own percussion. Five of the eight pieces have "lyrics," including a prayer excerpt from the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Japanese poems by Shotetsu and Akiko Yosano, and an anonymous Gaelic "Benediction." Giving his pieces such titles as "Paramita," "Evening Bell," and "Summoning Spirits," and dedicating them to a range of inspirations, including creative jazz icons Don Cherry and John Carter, Polish filmmaker Krzysztof Kieslowski, Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu, and pop star David Sylvian, Cline communicates a certain devotional intent, reinforced by spacious textures, ceremonial instrumental ornamentations, whispered intonations, and Kemanis's beautifully calm, contemplative vocals. But there's thunder here, too, in Cline's powerful drumming, and lightning in guest sax and guitar solos by Golia and Nels Cline.

Avant-garde jazz and so-called creative music are sometimes branded as elitist. But as Eco argues, there's a kind of Ur-Fascist "popular elitism" that says "every individual belongs to the best people in the world," even as a hierarchy of power keeps this "mass elite" under control. While our own "greatest country on Earth" boogies to Britney, I hear intelligence and bravery in Liebig's and Cline's music that feel like wake-up calls from a national nightmare.
Derk Richardson, San Francisco Bay Guaridan


Steuart Liebig, "Pomegranate," Cryptogramophone Records. Another great record label name. We couldn't listen to five minutes of the contrapuntal spacy music on the disc, though.


Steuart Liebig (who plays a contrabassguitar that sounds exactly the same as a string bass) heads a group of top West Coast avant-gardists through four lengthy and episodic originals. Mixing together the feel of classical music (particularly in his utilization of two woodwinds and the many written-out ensembles) with adventurous free Bop improvising, Liebig's music reflects music reflects both the influence of Vinny Golia and his own individual approach to creative Jazz.

Each of the selections has a different guest soloist. Tom Varner's French horn is prominent on "Widening," Mark Dresser plays the contrabass and the giffus on the second piece. Vinny Golia joins the group on "Flare Up Like Flame" on sopranino sa and guitarist Nels Cline adds a lot of distortion and fire to the final avant-rock selection.

Liebig's music overall is consistently unpredictable yet ultimately logical, moving forward both dramatically and with lyricism. It is avant-garde but not overly forbidding since close attention was paid to dynamics, mood variation and color. An intriguing effort.
Scott Yanow, Cadence


Any pretension to objectivity that I may have about this extraordinary CD vanished when the clear, pure voice of vocalist Aina Kemanis began The Constant Flame with these lines from the Tibetan Book of the Dead: "May I know all the sounds as my own sound. May I know all the lights as my own light. May I know all the rays as my own rays." The stillness at the heart of this thought was exploded by a thunderous drum pattern, almost defiant in its insistence. By the time Kemanis finished the line "As I grasp my distant maze, mistaken by the wind/Fill me with peace or free me from pain/The two are not the same," I was overcome. This was the Friday following the obscenity in New York, the first music I could bear to hear in the aftermath, and its poignancy and authority were almost unbearable. Six weeks later, they remain so. With The Constant Flame, the polymathic Los Angeles composer and percussionist Cline may have given us the most beautiful record since Wayne Shorter's Native Dancer a quarter of a century ago. Like its Cryptogramophone predecessor, Sparks Fly Upward, the tone of The Constant Flame is elegiac, but the materials are handles with such extraordinary pose, the texts (some by Cline himself) are so judiciously chosen and the emotion so near the surface that the 72 minutes of the CD are gripping in their intensity.

"Paramita," the opening cut, is dedicated to the memory of Don Cherry. Other compositions are memorials to Toru Takemitsu ("Evening Bell," a Japanese mountainside in a spring shower), Polish director Krysztof Kieslowski ("Wreath of Rain") John Carter (the jazz-influenced title cut with fine solos by G.E Stinson on guitar and Vinny Golia on soprano sax sounding like the sixth installment of Carter's "Roots and Folklore' series) and an unnamed "her" (the exquisite "Six Poems by Akiki Yosano"). These musicians have played together for years and it show: the listening between them (and between the musicians and producer Peter Erskine) is almost palpably intense. I could go on, but this is music that cannot be described; its effect is not on the +head or the feet, but on the heart. By the time the concluding "Benediction" (for Aina Kemanis) arrives with its Ukiyo-e waves of cymbal washes and its Tibetan bowls (a leitmotif throughout the CD), I felt transformed, healed. Cline has somehow gathered all sounds as his own sound and made them the sound of a stunned and wounded people. The Constant Flame is terribly moving, maybe the most moving thing I have ever heard.

With Pomegranate, Los Angeles bassist and composer Steuart Liebig is after something completely different, but in his own way, succeeds as spectacularly as Cline does on The Constant Flame. Each of the four compositions (which take their titles from lines by Lorca) is a sort of concerto for a guest soloist. The Two East Coast ringers come first with Tom Varner showing the full range of his instrument on "Widening Circles Reach Across the World." Flutist Ellen Burr steps out of the 7-member ensemble for a nice chorus. "The Motionless Blue of Fallen Skies" features Mark Dresser's bass, often in counterpoint to Liebig's contrabassguitar, Jeff Gauthier's electric violin and Burr's flute. Longtime Liebig associate Vinny Golia plays a darting incendiary sopranino saxophone on "Flare Up Like Flame and Create Shadows," and Nels Cline tears up "The Darkness of Each Endless Fall" on guitar. Liebig started in rock and left the scene to study the contrabass and composition. Both elements are present here as are his long involvement with improvisation. Liebig deftly resolves the ancient jazz dialectic of writing vs. blowing by composing pieces in a sort of jazz sonata form: written "expositions" followed by improvisation in the "development" section. While his methods are rooted in academic composition, the results sound like anything but. The effect is remarkably like Southern California - easygoing, unpretentious and almost, well...friendly. In Liebig's orderly neighborhood, the Webern's European-formal house shares the same block with the Braxton's fanciful modernist place and the Kirk's eclectic, rambling bungalow. And everyone gets along just fine. It's a neat trick that shouldn't work as well as it does (and frankly gets a lot of help from the mastery of the musicians involved, in addition to those mentioned above, clarinetist Eric Barber, trumpeter John Fumo, trombonist Scot Ray and Alex Cline). Those of us in the east have glibly dismissed L.A. jazz as a scene of studio hacks and limp rehearsal bands. These two remarkable CDs shake the foundations of that belief like an earthquake. Cline's Amazing CD will do the same to your soul.
John Chacona, Signal to Noise



Encontramos Nels Cline de novo no ensemble de Steuart Liebig (compositor e guitarra contrabaixo, antigo "sideman" de Julius Hemphill), ao lado de Mark Dresser (contrabaixo), Tom Varner (french horn) e Vinny Golia (saxofone sopranino). Dresser e Varner, nova iorquinos, s_o nomes familiares da "new music", enquanto Golia se destaca como expoente da m_sica improvisada de Los Angeles, com liga__es ao rock de c_mara (participa em "City of Mirrors" dos Motor Totemist Guild). "Pomegranate", constru_da segundo os c_nones da "big band", mas liberal na ampla liberdade concedida ao discurso individual de cada m_sico, divide-se em quatro movimentos longos onde convergem o free-bop, estruturas classizantes e improvisa__o livre. Nels Cline faz o seu n_mero de guitarrista comedor de fogo em "The darkness of each endless fall" e Varner desenha espirais em "Widening circles reach across the world". Golia, arrasador no registo "Evan Parker em luta contra a broca de dentista", e Eric Barber, no clarinete baixo, conseguem tornar real em "Flare up like flame and create dark shadows" o que o t_tulo recomenda. Pondo as coisas em perspectiva: a economia musical de "Pomegranate" _ t_o parca em notas como os t_tulos das faixas o s_o em palavras... Tanto melhor, se o excesso oferece mat_ria e motivo mais do que suficientes para nos fazer perder no labirinto da descoberta.

Uma noite no "Village Vanguard"

Sair do labirinto pode, todavia, ser um caso s_rio, caso n_o se tenha b_ssola ou se desconhe_a os ensinamentos do sol. Mais grave, se for noite, como em "Pomegranate"... Foi ent_o que emergiu do escuro um edif_cio iluminado. Ao longe, as notas de um trompete soltam-se como pardais que ali encontraram alimento, trazendo calor e seguran_a. O bop, uma vez mais, estendeu a b_ia de salva__o. No letreiro do edif_cio l_-se "Village Vanguard" e _ l_ que Tom Harrell se sente em casa. J_ visitara o local antes, com as "big bands" de George Russell e Mel Lewis, mas como l_der arriscou-se a tocar na m_tica sala de jazz somente depois de se impregnar com os esp_ritos que John Coltrane a_ deixara na m_tica sess_o de 1961 (voltaria l_ cinco anos mais tarde). Eleito o ano

Steuart Liebig's Pomegranate fuses the quirky chamber ensemble rhetoric of Stravinsky's "L'Histoire du Soldat," Schoenbergian serialism, and an improvised music bent that is totally contemporary. The former two qualities connect this suite of four pieces with modern classical music, and certainly the concerto format is most often associated with through-composed art music. But look at the solo instruments that Liebig writes for: french horn? contrabass? sopranino saxophone? ELECTRIC GUITAR?!?! Just looking at the instrumentation, it is clear that this music looks ahead even as it is tied to classical traditions.

Complicating the pigeonholer's job further is a rotating cast of musical styles and methods within each piece. Liebig purposefully juxtaposes structure and freedom, a concept long associated with jazz and improvised music but still jarring when heard in a more classical setting. "Flare up like flame and create dark shadows" begins with Vinny Golia's solo sopranino saxophone cadenza, moves into a cacophonous cycle of thematic statements, then launches into a free jazz section with a walking bass ostinato and Alex Cline's swinging drums. The piece alternates among Webern-style atonal composition, Albert Ayler squalls and hard bop dozens of times in the space of each lengthy piece. Liebig's compositional sense recalls that of John Zorn's chamber works, but where Zorn's abrupt stylistic leaps are intentionally lacking in fluidity, each of the elements in Pomegranate 's concertos seem to hang together.

This project certainly stands out in both Liebig's ouevre and the Cryptogramophone catalog. That it is so satisfying is testament to the expert musicianship displayed every step of the way, and also to Steuart Liebig's imaginative writing and leadership.
Etan Rosenbloom,


(excerpt from a review of the Mentones' Angel City Dust)
Pomegranate, one of those “serious” albums, was my introduction to Liebig. He’s part of the southern California crowd that includes Vinny Golia, G.E. Stinson, Nels Cline — and Jeff Kaiser, the guy who’s kept the scene documented for the past decade on the pfMentum label. Pomegranate consists of four long chamber pieces, each featuring a different guest soloist. I love the mix of cerebral jazz and thoughtful composing here — especially on the Nels Cline track, which ditches all chamber-jazz pretentions and goes for a total noise freak-out. Yeah!




If you want to read my notes on this album, click here.