STEUART LIEBIG/QUARTETTO STIG:
Mood Food - - Steuart Liebig's Diet for a Potential Universe
How do you make a mood? A Rothko painting has a mood, a 70s Altman movie has one, an old church has one. This recording by four L.A. resident musicians has a mood.
Leader bassist Steuart Liebig has a jones for composition/improvisation. So do drummer Jeff McCutchen, trumpeter John Fumo and violinist Jeff Gauthier, who have rehearsed enough with Liebig that compo and improv have almost become the same thing and the four sides have become a unit. The mood they make is quiet but insistent and penetrating, speaking of a potential universe where order, aspiration and subtle passion rule. It's almost a philosophy.
The mood prevails throughout, even though the sounds and rhythms are always changing. Two tunes are just plain hits. Resist if you can "Generator," whose fast future-bop line, ripped out on trumpet and violin, recalls Eric Dolphy (alto) and Ron Carter (cello) on Dolphy's "Out There"; or " . . . In Her Image," a filthy waterfront dance in some 1958 Havana sweat hole. At the other extreme are a pair of long improvisations. "Hojo No Umi" feels like sequence without cohesion. But "Commedia" is everything this group is about - - a violin drone supports trumpet/bass benedictions, tittling cymbals introduce a slow churn and then a nervous pickup, the trumpet croons softly over a bass and pizzicato violin, a low-grav-center groove slogs in, a wonderland atmosphere dissolves to near silence supplanted by a determined beat and melancholy violin/trumpet harmonies. Every segment is successful, and the transitions are as natural as rolling over in bed.
Through funereal themes, quirky miniatures and harmonic adventures, the individual members are integrated but distinct. Liebig pulls a thick sound like chocolate pudding out of his electric bass, chording or thumping as the moment commands. McCutchen is an environment in himself, mutating the percussion from second to second without ever sounding unsure. Fumo is the romantic; his Spanish-shaded trumpet knows where the heart is. And though Gauthier's violin always keeps its classical vibrato, he's capable of kicking it way outside the concert hall with microtonal modern double-stops, hacksaw screeches and raga drones.
About the mood. You can actually hear it operating sometimes on this album. Because every musician stops once in a while. Sometimes they stop - - for a good spell - - all together. And they just wait, and listen. And when they hear where the mood is, they join in.
(Greg Burk, L.A. Weekly; 28 January 1994)
One of the great recorded musical delights of the season is bassist Steuart Liebig's debut CD, Hommages Obliques (9 Winds). Liebig has revealed himself to be an architect of compelling musical forms that move seamlessly from the written to the improvised. His band of trumpeter John Fumo, violinist Jeff Gauthier and drummer Jeff McCutchen are savvy interpreters who bring their own personal dimensions to the pieces.
(Kirk Silsbee, L.A. Reader; 16 December 1993)
Steuart Liebig/Quartetto Stig: Hommages Obliques(9 Winds NW CD 0158) is an album which shouldn't be listened to while home alone on a dark night. Forebodingly introduced by a dirge-like, heavy pronouncement in brass and string ("Drei Schreckliche Engel"), Hommages includes both short, odd sketches and abstract, loose experimental symphonies.
The 20-minute "Commedia" is a bizarre centerpiece drawn in three movements. The first is characterized by a Morse code-like tapping cymbal under long, weeping violin cries, while the second layers panicky horn bursts and bits of frantically bowed violin over a raging low bass line, for a chilling effect.
The more arresting short pieces are "Orpheus," a richly dischordant string and horn duet which creeps like dark chamber music, and "Horseness is the Whatness of Allhorse," which sounds like a carnival organ grinder winding down, then blasts out an electronic cannon of a trumpet solo.
An often intriguing, but creepy and bleak album, Hommages Obliques may appeal to the existential, but is definitely not for everyone.
(Hilarie Gray, JazzTimes; May 1994)
Jazz Pick Of the Week: Steuart Liebig
"Quartetto Stig" is the name of bassist Steuart Liebig's four-man adventure team, and his 9 Winds release Hommages Obliques was one of last year's great, yet hidden discoveries. Bassist Liebig is joined by drummer Jeff McCutchen, trumpeter John Fumo and violinist Jeff Gauthier to weave tales of insight and intellect, all with a Koyaanisqatsi intensity. That's not to say this is a repetitive Philip Glass rip-off; not even close. Liebig's blend of composition and improvisation keep the landscapes shifting while Gauthier's violin gives the music a classical flavor. In fact, there's a lot of of classical stylism here, with gentle passages that recall Mahler's Fourth balanced against periods of hyper interplay mindful of Bartók's string quartets. Liebig dedicates tunes to both Julius Hemphill and Les McCann, so you know the reach of his inspiration. Fumo's voice is the most striking as he weaves both trumpet and flügel lines above delicate rhythmic interplay. The band will be the same, minus McCutchen who's replaced by Dan Morris, so there'll be no searching for common ground. Liebig and company are already standing on it. [At the Alligator Lounge, Mon., July 25.]
(Bill Kohlhasse, L.A. Weekly; 21 July 1994)
This agile quartet offers a unique variation on the ECM-ish, Euro-flavored style of modern, improvised music. With Gauthier's electric violin on the left and Fumo's trumpet on the right, Liebig keeps everything percolating in the center with a busy, harmonically active electric bass foundation while McCutchen accents effectively. Solos by all four musicians are focused and concise. The emotional tone of the music leans toward the austere but stops short of actual brooding. Lacking a conventional chording instrument (Liebig uses a six string bass but sticks largely to single note lines), the music has an open quality that is enhanced by the fact that there is little group improvisation, per se. Most of the time, the two front-line players state the themes together and then take turns soloing Liebig frequently is heard unaccompanied for his own inventive, wide-ranging solos. The recording is live to DAT, with the normal attendant dryness and detail but, overall, sound quality is good. I like this disc. I believe that all but those with acoustic vs. electric hang-ups will too.
(Carl Baugher, Cadence; April 1994)
Inspired by New York's "Downtown" sounds, L.A.'s underground "Jazz/Art Music" scene is alive and well. On his solo debut, scene sideman Liebig provides plenty of heroics in both lead and support settings that range from the hectic noise poem "Squib" to the chillingly beautiful "Seal." Wonderfully strange, swinging music.
(Chris Jisi, Bass Player Magazine; January-February 1994)
Alligator's Mondays New and Improvised
Experimental Artists Are Featured in Santa Monica Club's
New Music Monday Series
. . . Liebig also felt he had used up what interested him about pop music. He now plays with violinist (Jeff) Gauthier and trumpeter John Fumo (the excellent drummer Jeff McCutchen recently died) in Quartetto Stig, a composed/improvised project whose 9 Winds CD, Hommages Obliques, is one of the music's most fully realized artifacts.
(Greg Burk, L.A. Times Calendar; 28 August 1994)
Scoring the Clubs/Quartetto Stig at the Alligator Lounge
Improvisation can be a shoving match or a meditation session, and both can be just the thing, depending on your mood. Quartetto Stig, a circle of respect featuring bassist Steuart Liebig, trumpeter John Fumo, violinist Jeff Gauthier and drummer Dan Morris, always exemplifies the latter - - refer to Hommages Obliques (9 Winds) for documentation. Perfect for a quiet January almost-midnight; they play last.
(Greg Burk, L.A. Weekly; 12 January 1995)
Steuart Liebig/Hommages Obliques
Bass guitarist Liebig, with his Quartetto Stig, has an unusual instrumentation: John Fumo (tp/flg), Jeff Gauthier (4&5 String violin), Jeff McCutchen(d). His vision of composition and group improvisation is equally individualistic.
The way in which Fumo and Gauthier lead and prod each other is noteworthy and McCutchen shows sharp anticipation of how Liebig's thematic material should develop and when it should change direction and energy level. An interesting collaboration.
One never quite knows what will turn up in a mixed bag of piano-less quartet efforts and I'm not so sure about Steuart Liebig's Quartetto Stig: Hommages Obliques. (9Winds). It generally suffers under a base desire to create tension where very little organic tension lies. So, Hommages Obliques tends to sound overly dramatic. It's well played and the instrumentation of electric bass, violin, trumpet and drums makes for a satisfying fusion of sound but the compositional setups leave the listener in a position to fall. This fall is particularly long and hard after the opening minutes of the two 20-minute pieces Commedia and Hojo No Umi which take all of their time to say not very much. A fundamental wrong here is that this music seeks to exact the science of the quartet and free music does not invite the sort of approach evidenced here. This CD's most human trait is its fallibility.
(Coda Magazine; May-June 1995)
If you want to read my notes on this album, click here.