Now for Something Completely Different

Jazz trio, playing Sunday at Plaza Pasadena, always broadening its horizons


By Kirk Silsbee, Pasadena Weekly: June 1999

Bassist Steuart Liebig is know for intriguing musical frameworks he's devised for his band Quartetto Stig and his fascinating work on electric bass

In this group, equal weight is given to composition and improvisation and Liebig was able to create substantial moods for audiences that didn't quite know what they were hearing.

Liebig was a regular participant in the late, lamented New Music Mondays series that ran about fives years at places such as Santa Monica's Alligator Lounge, Los Angeles' Café Largo and West Hollywood's LunaPark. New Music Monday brought together any diverse musicians for short-lived bandstand congresses. While playing in one of many group situations there, Liebig's occasional trio of reed player Vinny Golia and drummer Billy Mintz suggested itself to him.

"I got the idea for this band," said Liebig from his Culver City home, "when the three of us played in pianist Steve Lockwood's group. The chemistry between the three of us was really good, so this was the pretext for me to play with Vinny and Billy. I also wanted to do something diametrically opposed to Quartetto Stig. The tunes for the trio are skeletal - - not the formal extravaganzas for the quartet. I thought that was the best way for us to communicate."

The trio, which goes by the name of Liebig/Golia/Mintz, plays Sunday at the Pasadena Shakespeare Company Theater in the Plaza Pasadena Mall. Their only recording, No Train (Cadence Jazz Records), has three improvisations and four compositions.

"The tunes had to be short structures, emphasizes Liebig," and open-ended so they didn't' limit the improvisations. They could occur at the beginning, middle or end of the improvs. Sometimes on the gig, Billy will start off a groove that we'll play on and then somewhere along the way it's apparent: 'Oh, that's we're going to play."

Golia, who plays baritone and soprano saxophone in the trio, has known Liebig for many years and has heard him play bass - - both acoustic and electric - - in many varied settings. He said, "Steuart's one of the best electric bass layers I've ever heard. The common thread that runs through all of his playing is that he's very compositional as an improviser. You get the larger picture very fast with him. We used to work jobs at the same place and get together lunch and talk. He could analyze the work of a composer like Mahler, then turn around and discuss James Brown to the same degree. He can take that music apart and see how it interlocks just as he can a classical composer's."

The music of the trio contains floating free expanses where all three players operate in a peripheral manner, playing tag with a tonal center. These passages often congeal into conflagrations that might typically untie around a pulse that Mintz provides.

Both Golia and Liebig agree that Mintz's work is exceptional.

"Billy is an original," Liebig said. "You never know what he's gonna do. He can play very straight time or just take you all the way to the wall. He's somehow created this thing where he plays time but these little melodic fragments keep popping up."

Golia offered, "It's interesting to watch Billy open up this thing that he's into. It's a lot like Pandora's Box, he's a multidirectional drummer."

"The thing about this music," Golia concludes, "is that whatever knowledge you amass, the next day it doesn't matter. You have to come up with something different than you already know."