Stigtette features Steuart on contrabass-guitars & preparations, Ellen Burr on flutes, Andrew Pask on clarinets and Sara Schoenbeck on bassoon. 'Delta' is Steuart Liebig's tenth disc as a leader and this L.A-based master-bassist and composer continues to expand his palette. You would only know his collaborators here if you were a big fan of the ever-expanding Nine Winds/Cryptogramophone/ pfMentum scene in and around L.A. Steuart is a master on that 6-string (?) fretless contrabass-guitar and never ceases to amaze with daredevil playing and intricate writing. He has utilized the talents of gifted flutist Ellen Burr on a few of his previous discs, she can also be heard on recording(s) with Vinny Golia. "hector" opens with some extremely complex modern string quartet like playing, quick and moving in layers.
This followed by two suites, "kprs" and "seven dreams about time." With no percussionist involved, Steuart plays some of the rhythmic parts on the contrabass-guitar. I dig the way different themes and combinations of players are explored, sometimes there are intricate four-part harmonies, sometimes different duos or trios will switch off. There is a section called "light cloud, dark cloud" where things slow down and different ghosts emerge and float by. On "1956-j no. 2," Steuart's lightning speed line of notes is dazzling as the rest of the trio swirl around him at half speed creating a nice contrast. Equally amazing is the way Steuart fingers bounce quickly on the strings on "dynamite's dionysian dance." Sara takes an inspired bassoon solo as Steu bangs on his unique prepared contrabass-guitar. "our lady of the illuminated hand" features some eerie prepared bass and more ghost-like hovering winds, minimal and spaciously placed. The title piece of this suite, "seven dreams about time" is quite dream-like as the pace is slowed down, the harmonies quietly rich and pensive in nature, with Steuart holding it down with somber bass drones and nimble plucked work. Most impressive is "render" with quick inter-connected layers of lines moving simultaneously. What's interesting about this is that this quartet is a completely unique hybrid, three acoustic reeds and one warm-toned (fretless) bass guitar that sound just right together as one formidable quartet, thanks to Steuart's strong composing and solid playing.
BLG (Downtown Music Gallery)
There's a ton of music here . . . with some very nice performances from not the usual array of instruments. The music is somewhat like chamber music but with touches and edges of experimentation, avant garde excursions, and some lovely deliveries. "kprs" is a 4-part work that lasts for over 20 minutes! On "seven dreams about time" there's seven parts that play as a whole. Also there are many more nice pieces. I enjoyed the classical sense with touches of improvisation and elements of many styles. The way these artists play together is impressive as they make some great music. Fans of classical, jazz, and instrumental music will enjoy this project. There's well over an hour of great sounds and this music will stir your ears and mind. A very solid effort.
A. Canales [Critical Review Service]
While he's experimented with larger ensembles on albums like Pomegranate (Cryptogramophone, 2001), contrabassguitarist Steuart Liebig tends to favour the more intimate context of the quartet. But his groups have been anything but conventional, with his three Quartetto Stig albums featuring violin, trumpet, contrabassguitar, and drums, and last year's Quicksilver (pfMentum) a combination of flute, violin, contrabassguitar, and percussion. Still, despite the unorthodoxy of his instrumentation, there's always been a rhythm section.
Not so on Delta , which, for Liebig, most heavily blurs the line between contemporary composition and improvisation. Featuring flautist Ellen Burr (back from Quicksilver ), clarinetist Andrew Pask, and bassoonist Sara Schoenbeck, Delta has more to do with modern classical concepts than traditional jazz harmonies. Both Pask and Schoenbeck were recently seen on left coast scene progenitor Vinny Golia's Large Ensemble: 20th Anniversary Concert (Nine Winds, 2005) DVD, another release that demonstrated how the long-held line between jazz improvisers and classical interpreters exists no longer. Delta occupies a similar space, but in its smaller size avoids the chaos that sometimes characterizes Golia's large ensemble.
Delta is no easy listen, deceptive though it might be with the relatively soft tones of the flute and clarinet, and the warm low end of the contrabassguitar, bassoon, and bass clarinet. While Liebig's electric contrabassguitar would appear to be odd man out in the lineup, it feels equally organic, and meshes well with the wind instruments.
Liebig also uses prepared techniques to give his instrument a more percussive texture, as on "Dynamite's Dionysian Dance," one of the more rhythmically insistent tracks on the disc, and "Secret One-Hand Shake," where his instrument is altered so much that it loses clarity, creating a clangy, almost mechanical sound beneath Pask's clarinet solo.
Liebig describes "Our Lady of the Illuminated Hand" as "a requiem of sorts," and its somber mood certainly alludes to darker matters. Between dissonant harmonies, Pask's multiphonics and Liebig's gut-deep tones, there are references to 20th Century composers like Ligeti. But with its improvisational component, it also goes to unexpected places that more formal classical composers would never envisage. "Light Cloud, Dark Cloud" is equally brooding, but purer of tone, even at times approaching a dark lyricism.
They may not know each other, but there's evidence that Liebig and British ex-pat multi-instrumentalist Fred Frith come from some of the same musical places. While more detailed in structure, "Seven Secrets About Time" bears resemblance to some of Frith's '70s group Henry Cow's chamber-like passages on Unrest (East Side Digital, 1974) and In Praise of Learning (East Side Digital, 1975).
While Liebig has worked within conventional rhythm section frameworka on albums like trombonist Scot Ray's Active Vapor Recovery (Cryptogramophone, 2003) and percussionist Gregg Bendian's Interzone record Myriad (Atavistic, 2000), his own path is moving more towards a classically informed chamber aesthetic. Beautiful may not be a word that comes immediately to mind when describing Delta , but there is something strangely compelling about Liebig's blend of detailed structure and more open-ended improvisation, making Delta a worthwhile investigation for the open-minded listener.
John Kelman [All About Jazz]
West Coast electric bassist Steuart Liebig could be counted among the area's most enterprising, jazz-based musicians. On this outing, he aligns with a flute-clarinet-bassoon based ensemble for chamber formatted infusions of jazz/classical structures and improvisation. One of the more interesting aspects here is how Liebig brandishes a limber attack while serving as the foundation and propulsive element to these varied works. He also implements prepared bass techniques as a means of diversity. With ostinato motifs, and nimble maneuvers, the bassist lithely steers the current of the ensemble's multidirectional passages.
Glenn Astarita [All About Jazz]
Liebig's contrabass guitars are joined by Ellen Burr on flutes, Andrew Pask on clarinets and Sara Shoenbeck on bassoon. And if you haven't heard a contrabass guitar duel with a bassoon...well, the band geeks out there understand. The pieces are written, but there is some leeway for improvisation as well. The sort of avant classical album that ought to make many smile.
Jon Worley [Aiding and Abetting]
STEUART LIEBIG, Kotrabassgitarrist und Komponist im kalifornischen Culver City, setzt langst die kommerzielleren Aspekte seiner Biographie - 1976-78 hatte er, kaum 20-jahrig, Les McCann begleitet und spater dann mit der Rockformation BLOC war er auf dem Sprung zum Major-Erfolg (In the Free Zone, 1991) -, in Klammern. Sein Weg führte statt dessen über Zwischenschritte mit Rhythm Plague, einem 1984/85
aktiven California Outside Music-Trio mit Wayne Peet & Nels Cline, und universitären und autodidaktischen Studien zu einer eigenen Version von alchemystisch angehauchter Kammermusik mit den Formationen Quartetto Stig, Stigtette, KammerStig und Minim, während er mit The Mentones erzamerikanischen Folk & Blues in einer avantgardistischen Linse bricht. Mit dem mit STIGTETTE eingespielten Delta (PFM 033) setzt er die 9Winds-, Cryptogramophone- & pfMentum-Versuchsreihe fort, in der er nach neuen kammermusikalischen Ausdrucksformen forscht wie einst die Alchemisten nach der Quintessenz. An Liebigs Seite findet man erneut die Flötistin Ellen Burr, den Klarinettisten Andrew Pask und Sara Schoenbeck am Fagott. Zusammen suchen sie nach der perfekten chemischen Mischung von Komposition und Improvisation. Im Zentrum stehen die vierteilige Suite ?kprs' und das 7-teilige ?seven dreams about time', umringt von Komprovisationen wie ?dynamite's dionysian dance', ?cold green mystery', ?our lady of the illuminated hand', ?secret one-hand shake' und ?knowledge is gravity', Titel, die Liebigs Interesse an okkulter und illuminierter Gnosis spiegeln. Klanglich scheint Stigtette anzuknüpfen an die neoklassizistische Moderne von Strawinsky, Milhaud, Poulenc, geistig an den rosenkreuzerischen Satie. Musik erscheint als eine komplexe und esoterische Wissenschaft, die mit fluchtigen, heiklen Stoffen umgeht, die man nur mit einer höheren Form von Nüchternheit und Heiterkeit zu den gewünschten Reaktionen bringt. Der Charme des Unzeitgemäßen ist dabei manchmal etwas spröde, aber deswegen nicht weniger kapriziös und reizvoll.
[STEUART LIEBIG, contrabass guitarist and composer in the Californian Culver city, sets a long time the more commercial aspects of its biography - 1976-78 had accompanied he, hardly 20-jahrig, harvest McCann and was later then with the skirt formation BLOC he on the leap to the major-success (in the Free zone, 1991) -, in clamps. Its way led breaks blues in an avantgardistischen lens instead of its of California active over interim measures with Rhythm Plague, a 1984/85 Outside Music trio with Wayne Peet & Nels Cline, and university and car didactic studies to a characteristic version by alchemystisch of breathed on chamber music with the formations Quartetto climbed, Stigtette, chamber path and Minim, while it with The Mentones of ore American Folk &. With the Delta balanced out with STIGTETTE (PFM 033), it sets the 9Winds-, Cryptogramophone- & pfMentum-Versuchsreihe away, in that it after new chamber musical forms of expression searches like once the Alchemisten for the quintessence. At Liebig's side, one finds again the Flötistin yards of Burr, the clarinetist Andrew Pask and Sara Schoenbeck at the bassoon. Together they search for the perfect chemical mixture of composition and improvisation. In the center stand the four hurried suite. Tonal Stigtette seems to begin at the neoklassizistische modern of Strawinsky, Milhaud, Poulenc, intellectually at the rosenkreuzerischen Satie. Music appears as a complex and esoteric science, that goes around with fleeting, delicate materials, that one brings only with a higher form of sobriety and cheer to the desired reactions. The charm of the dated is not there sometimes somewhat brittle, but therefore less capricious and attractively]
Rigo Dittman [Bad Alchemy]
This is not exactly a jazz album, nor is it really classical music. It's really both, and it's accessible, and--despite what you might be thinking--it's kind of adorable and good. If it was a bit more forceful, and if the tracks weren't all pretty much the same, this would be quite a great recording indeed.
These ten pieces feature three wind players over bandleader Steuart Liebig's "contrabassguitar" stylings. Most of the tracks are not songs so much as they are written-out minimalist compositions with free improv passages and pretentious titles. A perfect example of this is "Dynamite's Dionysian Dance." It begins with free bassoon noodling by Sara Schoenbeck with Liebig's percussive bass playing, but soon locks into a stern counterpointed refrain, which then melts into some duetting by flautist Ellen Burr, which then turns into a different refrain, which then gives way to Andrew Pask's clarinet solo, and . . . well, you get the picture, I hope.
This is not shrieking, crazy free stuff, it's not MJQ chamber jazz, and it's not fusion. Maybe it's fourth wave. But this music certainly does not lack in ambition, which is good in these unadventurous and troubling times. There is one fourteen-minute, seven-part suite called (natch) "Seven Dreams About Time," and another four-part piece called "KPRS," or maybe "Kprs" or "kprs." I'm not sure what distinguishes the pieces of these massive works from each other, but they're really long and intricate, and they flow very nicely, so they must have been a hell of a lot of work to lay down in the studio.
Overall, however, there's not much difference between any of these tracks. Sure, "Render" is incredibly fast, and "Cold Green Mystery" is slower and more pastoral, and "Hector" is a fanfare. But all of them pretty much follow the same template: staccato blips and bleeps from everyone, then a solo or duet passage, then more unison blips and/or bleeps, then someone else solos, then boom and the song's over and a new one that sounds just like it begins. Over the course of a 68-minute CD, it starts to wear down the critical listener in me.
But the casual listener in me likes it just fine, because everyone is a great player. The themes can be a bit chilly, but the solo work is quiet and controlled and full of what used to be called soul, especially when Burr lets herself go. I also like the way Liebig handles his guitar, although he tends to copy Tony Levin's Stick work a bit too much on, say, "Secret One-Hand Shake," and some other tracks. There is a pleasing darkness to the lighter sections, and the draggy stuff is still pretty airy, so that's all good. I would like to keep in touch with this project as it continues, because Liebig is a talented composer who just needs to develop some more tools and let himself breathe a little.
PS. This CD is also really good for making my infamous Mayan Curry Ricestravaganza on cold winter nights. This is not something to sneeze at. Good cooking music cannot be overrated.
Matt Cibula [allaboutjazz.com]
When I listen to half-composed, half-improvised music my curiosity is usually about the level of the performers' musicianship and the global balance of sound; in "Delta" I found a positive answer to all questions, as this beautiful effort is certainly well decipherable and conspicuously fruitful, thanks to an uncommon level of "semi-approachable difficulty" which expert ears won't take too much to link to realities such as Motor Totemist Guild, even if - strangely enough - the body-beautiful contrabass guitar played by Liebig would fit nicely in Mikel Rouse Broken Consort's "A walk in the woods"-era timbral palette (just a fantasy of mine). Instead, these scores range from Stravinskian derivations to obscurely amorphous, Gavin Bryars-tinged reflections, constituting a solid foundation for the dexterous, no-nonsense technical attitude and total dedication to the cause by flutist Ellen Burr, bassoonist Sara Schoenbeck and clarinetists Andrew Pask who - together with the leader's conceptual elasticity - contribute in equal measure to the objective beauty of the large part of this album, one of the best by the Californian label so far.
Massimo Ricci [TOUCHING EXTREMES]
An inversion of conventions - - at least when it comes to collaborations between so-called classical and so-called non-classical instruments, DELTA is the exact opposite of a jazz soloist and strings outings.
Rather than having, say, a saxophonist record with a brace of strings, this Third Stream effort was organized by Steuart Liebig, a contrabassguitarist from Culver City, Calif., to showcase his instrument and a recital-ready trio of horn players: Ellen Burr on flute, alto flute and piccolo, Andrew Pask on clarinet and bass clarinet, and Sara Schoenbeck on bassoon. This reason why this pleasant, if - -at 67 minutes a touch overlong - - session works, is that the versatile participants are as familiar with improvised as notated music.
In the past, Liebig has formulated a place for his instrument both in so-called serious composition and in improvisation with the likes of reedists Julius Hemphill and Vinny Golia and drummers Billy Mintz and Alex Cline. Chief vehicle for his Third Stream writing is this Stigtette. Flautist Burr not only premiered solo flute pieces composed by James Tenney and others, but has also been part of improvising ensembles led by drummers Harris Eisenstadt and Adam Rudolph. Bassoonist Schoenbeck improvises regularly with such Los Angles players as Golia, Eisenstadt and bassist Mark Dresser, while in her time in the so-called classical idiom is dedicated to performing the music of living composers. Pask has played jazz in his native Wellington, New Zealand, Cantopop as a Hong Kong studio musician, and, in Los Angeles, with different projects involving Golia, and in a duo with trumpeter Jeff Kaiser.
Interesting enough, cursory listening to the 12 tracks reveal a baroque tinge. That's because for all intents and purposes Liebig's electric bass plays the part of the ground bass, developed in 16th England and used extensively during the Baroque era. An early version of what would evolve into jazz's walking bass, this ostinato recurs over and over while the voices on top of it vary continuously. Of course pure Baroque music isn't this polyphonic and it's even rarer to find the bassoon as a lead voice in that genre, as it often is here.
Additionally, during the four tracks that make up the "kprs" suite there's a point where the interconnected tapestry of slurred horn colors almost resemble the texture of an ecclesiastical organ, until it fade to more distant and lower-pitched harmonies from the unison horns. During other sections, the distinctive bassoon lilt delicately twists and turns, as andante, thumb-popping bass lines define the bottom, while high-pitched, twittering piccolo timbres and slurred bass clarinet textures move along the middle range in double counterpoint. Finale is a polyphonic aural color field, again most notable for Schoenbeck's striated modulations.
With most of the compositions involving note-perfect glissandi and harmonic convergence, "Render" stands out, since its concluding section decelerates from staccato to adagio. So does "Secret One-Hand Shake," whose final measure is purposely missing. Yet the most distinctive tracks are "Knowledge is Gravity" and "Seven Dreams about Time," a 14-minute-plus, multi-part composition movement played continuously.
The former features Liebig's power thumps hugging the centre, as trilled portamento double-tonguing from the horns swells to repetitive riffing as if they were performing Anthony Braxton's Ghost Trance Music. More complicated, the later piece slackens the pace around the ground bass continuo so that the contrapuntal possibilities of the horns are put into sharper relief. Using broken chords, every flute flutter and harmonized bass clarinet line establishes a separate personality, eventually splitting apart to accede to individualized variations on the theme.
Proof that classically-oriented Third Stream writing doesn't have to be effete or pretentious, when taken in bite-sized earfuls, DELTA confirms the cooperative compositional and improvised talents of all involved.
Ken Waxman [Jazz Weekly/JazzWord.com]
Chamber-jazz that's about 90% chamber and 10% jazz. Feels like fairly accessible modern classical with some improvisatory elements. The unusual instrumentation here (bassoon, clarinets, flutes, and bass), the abstract half-composed/half-improvised (but not in a jazzy way) feel, and lack of concern for, say, swinging puts this out of any overtly jazzy territory, even when the structure is pretty close to head-solo-head, while Liebig's active bass playing and the willingness of the players to be atonal and dissonant keeps it from the anodyne end of the ECM sound, though as with ECM, though, the recording here is preternaturally clear. In fact that clarity, combined with that willingness, makes the record seem a little dark and unstable - - another element contributing to this is Liebig's fondness for having instruments play at different speeds simultaneously, especially when he plays (and his bass comes through perfectly) quick low notes while the others play much slower. Unfortunately the gauziness of the recording prevents even the most active parts from really hitting hard.
Many of these tracks are fairly self-similar feel and pace, but try:
6, 10, 12, 11, 7
1: Fast and propulsive, even a little jaunty at first. Parts of this sound like tricks to get you to think you could dance to it, which would probably be a bad idea.
2-5 form a suite.
2: Abstract flurries with very brief solos interspersed. Ends with all members punctuating, one note at a time and together, spans of silences.
3: Opens with a bassoon solo, slow. Pace picks up when flute enters (1:20), things get punchier. 2:15 cycle repeats, except with solo clarinet, then with bass, then flute.
4: Slow and soft not unlike some of the Claudia Quintet's work, or the Vandermark 5 tracks dedicated to Feldman on "Acoustic Machine." Everything sounds a little tentative here.
5: Busy opening, with very fast bass, slow bassoon, and in-between flute/clarinet. Propulsive middle.
6: Uncertain start with just bass clarinet & bass. Bass becomes more active and the flute takes the lead (occasionally with shakuhachi-like timbre), followed by a bassoon solo, then bass solo. Occasional full-group interludes between the solos.
7: Fluttery. This track is a bit hard for me to get a handle on: the non-bass instruments have play almost start-stop, without actuallystopping, and the bass moves all over.
8: Creaky and slow-moving, wouldn't be out of place after an ambient track.
9: Long seven-part suite in one track. Fitting with the title ("Seven Dreams about Time") the piece is fairly "light" seeming. I don't mean it's insubstantial, just that it has a floaty, airy character - - Liebig's bass playing is less prominent here. In fact "light" may be a bad word because even though there's nothing heavy about this, not all of the seven dreams are good dreams; in particular one section in the middle, with a trilling reed and very rapid, almost subliminal bass playing, is a bit destabilizing.
10: Fairly similar to 1 in tempo and feel at the beginning, but longer and with a little more development. Nice clarinet/flute duet in the middle, then a bass/bassoon duet.
11: Percussive bass playing is sinister sounding; other instruments go through a sequence of solos (clarinet-bassoon-flute) with some full-group passages between.
12: Repetitive opening a la Larval, which builts to a very active, everyone-solo-at-once frenzy - - but then they stop on a dime (and the piece loses momentum). From there on out, calmness rules the day, until the last 25 seconds.
Ben Wolfson [KZSU]
Most of the twelve pieces included in this album range between New Music and avantgarde Jazz. Nonetheless, some pieces or passages from them turn out to be unclassifiable. With a style clearly identified with experimental music, the artists construct unusual structures created by means of an acute imagination for the architectures of sound. The instruments used here range from contrabassguitars, to flutes, clarinets and basoon. Most of the time, the themes give out a mixture of disquieting melodies and silences.
DOMINIQUE CHEVANT, amazings.com
For our last offering in this wide-ranging grab bag of musics, we turn to STEUART LIEBIG/STIGTETTE and their CD DELTA (pfMentum 33) . . . This is absorbing Third Stream music composed for and improvised by the unusual instrumentation as listed above. Mr. Liebig's contrabass guitar blends interestingly with the winds throughout. All players are quite skilled and the engaging music is composed with room for "blowing" in a freely structured way. This is chamber music that is rooted in modern concert music as much as it is in Improv. I found it a delight. You may also - - as long as you don't mind the lack of Blues choruses or searing layers of multiphonics. This is a quieter kind of music.
Grego Applegate Edwards, Cadence
There aren't many electric bass guitarists running around the avant-improv circles where Steuart Liebig tends to dwell. The unorthodox timbre of plugged-in bass is especially noticeable on his chamberesque project Delta, featuring the refreshing instrumental combination of flutist Ellen Burr, clarinetist Andrew Pask and bassoonist Sara Schoenbeck. This group, Stigtette, traverses a rarely traveled and carefully plotted terrain where free playing meets writing vaguely nodding in the direction of such 20 th -century modernists as Stravinsky and Hindemith.
If playful wit enters the picture through titesl like "Dynamite's Dionysian Dance" and "Secret One-Hand Shake," the music itself tends to be more somber in spirit. Vibrant energy isn't lacking, though, as the players give buoyant life to the lively candences and terse harmonies of Liebig's writing.
In the strange dynamics of this group, the unusually versatile wind players hug the road of the composer's tightly scored and sometimes tricky parts and veer off tastefully into improvisational turf where so directed, mostly in tasteful collective free-for-alls rather than focusing on solos statements. Meanwhile, Liebig has his hands and mind full: detached from the main textural color of the ensemble by his hermetic, electric sound, Liebig serves as a surrogate rhythm section, at once grounding with bass parts and supplying the percussive role.
What to call this quasi-avant-jazz-chamber concoction? To the leader's credit, "Stigtette music" works just fine.
Josef Woodard, JazzTimes, June 2006
Delta is performed by the Steuart Liebig Stigtette (contrabass and woodwind quartet) and the album includes a range of his composed/improvised pieces. The selection and style of instruments creates a satisfying range of tones, with an often classical feel that is pastoral and > suggests composers such as Debussy. Hector opens with a minimalist intricacy, seen also in Cold green mystery, before the range of moods In KPRS – tight freeform, long wood lines, slow melancholy and finally a dance. Dynamite’s Dionysian dance is just that as strong figures ply over the bass. In a number of tracks, Liebig’s bass takes the percussive role either indirectly as a support as in Dynamite, or as a tinkling of prepared bass, heard in Our lady of the illuminated hands. The longest track, Seven dreams about time, is a controlled variation of forms and moods that is entrancing. Overall this is a lovely album, with a surprising blend of satisfying musicality, excitement and edge.
(Jeremy Ponder, Ampersand.com)
If you want to read my notes on this album, click here.