Lane Ends Merge Left at Fais Do-Do
Got to find beauty in the darkness, right? That's one of bassist Steuart Liebig's specialties, and he's zeroed in keenly with his latest improvisational outfit, Lane Ends Merge Left. Mostly it's a low, inky groove - - Alex Cline rustling the drums in close sympathy with Liebig's contrapuntal thump. The rest is quiet time - - drifty meditational spaces left open for electronic exhalations and percussion whispers. If the format reminds you of Liebig's former project Quartetto Stig, look to the reunion with violinist Jeff Gauthier, whose plaintive threads and gypsy sawing share the melodic stratum with the heady saxes of Eric Barber. Even at its most stirring, this is peaceful, refreshing music, rounded with experience; these guys know one another very well, and it shows. If you haven't been to Fais Do-Do recently, by the way, check out the improved sound. (Greg Burk)
When an ensemble's most prominent chordal instrument is the electric bass guitar, there is a good chance that you are hearing one of Steuart Liebig's various projects. Switching off between fretless and fretted 6-string plus 12-string bass guitars, Liebig is an impressive master technician on the instrument, and plays as much like a guitar as he does like a bass instrument.
He is also a prolific composer of challenging and spirited music, interposing extended harmonies, angular melody lines and variously free improvisation in a range of rhythmic environments from grooved to free.
For this CryptoNight gig he brought the "Lane Ends Merge Left" group consisting of Alex Cline on drums, Jeff Gauthier on electric violin and Eric Barber on saxophones. Cline, with his typically pure command of rhythmic space, provided a diamond-hard and explosive foundation for the group as it wove its way through Liebig's demanding compositions, and flowed seamlessly through the improvisational sections with great nuance. Gauthier was reliably strong and fluid as usual, with Barber reaching into a whole range of textures from sweet to raspy and back. It takes a band of top-shelf players like this to properly express Liebig's work, and they nailed it.
Liebig's 12-string bass was heavily chorused, sounding almost orchestral in the emphasis of chord and ostinato work, while his fretted 6-string was a more multi-faceted tool for mixing chords, riffs and bass grooves, and the fretless 6-string filled in with darker and more nuanced sounds. His second set began with an extended suite with many transitions between the bass instruments, often filled with improvised solos or combinations by the other group members - - an epic journey covering many different settings and grooves.
The energy of this group is always at a very high level, even when the volume is moderate or the arrangement calls for unaccompanied soloing. There is just so much sheer information in this music, and such intensity of spirit, that it's difficult not to be riveted from start to finish.
If you want to read my notes on this album, click here.