STEUART LIEBIG/TET-TOT QUARTET:
Tee-Tot Quartet's Always Outnumbered got a mention from Acoustic Levitation for best of 2008, here!
Thanks STEVE KOENIG!
The press release probably sums this one up best . . . stating that this album combines "the influences of 1920s-30s jazz, blues and country, fused with avant garde jazz practice and a little bit of California "outsider music" aesthetic thrown in for good measure." The Tee-Tot Quartet consists of Joseph Berardi (drums, percussion), Dan Clucas (cornet), Scot Ray (dobro), and Steuart Liebig (fretless contrabassguitar). Liebig wrote all thirteen of these instrumentals that showcase his own talents as well as those of his associates. Some of the tracks on Always Outnumbered remind us of some of the more adventurous jazz from the 1940s through the 1960s from artists who never achieved a great deal of commercial success. Strangely moody and subdued, this album was recorded for that tiny segment of the listening audience that demands credibility and substance in their music . . . (Rating: 5) (Babysue.com)
L.A. bassist Liebig knows that many listeners think his compositions sound weird (he was the one who came up with the label name Cryptogramophone, after all), but the impression arises just because he’s a real observer; he takes the weirdness of the world as he finds it, and his music is the natural consequence. Often, though, as in his group the Mentones, he has found ways to make the strangeness slide down pretty easy, and his Tee-Tot Quartet (named after an early mentor of Hank Williams) is another example.
Historically, Liebig will funk ya, he will blues ya, he will even metal ya occasionally just to get his greater point across. “Always Outnumbered” is his way of modernizing the blues, keeping some rhythmic flavor and some traditional structure but appropriately distancing the form somewhat from the soil while substituting a sense of unease and disconnect we can all understand. In this he made a canny choice by teaming up with Scot Ray, whose electrified dobro is capable of both the downest of Delta slidations and the noisiest of apocalyptic disruptions. Drummer Joseph Berardi always keeps substantial trashcan beats under his freeform fingernails, and cornetist Dan Clucas, though a wool-dyed avanteer, consistently allows the clear enunciations of the human voice to pour through. Liebig’s muscular six-string electric bass weaves up, down and around with such fluidity -- sometimes driving, sometimes commenting or arguing -- that it seems almost subconscious. Well, it is his music.
The blues include a limping shuffle, a slow yawner, a start-stop urban strut, a poky prodder, a straight boogie and a Beefheartian boozer, all rendered ungeneric by off-center harmonies, lopsided beats and even some Arabic guitar melisma. Liebig always dishes up some of that Beefheart stew, the difference in the blues-battering being that where the Captain was at root an instinctive hippie in overalls, Liebig is more of a suburban crank schooled in Schoenberg.
Can you dance to it? Yeah. You probably won’t, though.
(Greg burk @ metaljazz.com)
I tend to hear Liebig's work as straddling the avant-garde and accessible worlds. Most of the time, I'm an avant-garde kinda guy. But I tend to like Leibig's more straightforward work best.
This album, however, seems to straddle the straddle, as it were. Leibig's contrabass work here is fairly conventional in a melodic sense, but his pieces are anything but. In particular, Dan Clucas's work on the cornet is spectacular. He kinda flits through the universe as Scot Ray on dobro and Joseph Berardi on drums keep order.
Each player takes his share of solos. Ray's dobro work is exemplary, and he takes his turns with aplomb. But these pieces seem written to feature the cornet, and Clucas is the clear star here.
I'm cool with that. These are well-constructed pieces played with style and emotion. In the end, I'd say this is one of my favorite Leibig efforts. Very nice.
(Aiding and Abetting)
STEUART LIEBIG setzt mit dem TEE-TOT QUARTET einen Weg fort, den er schon mit The Mentones beschritten hat. Wie dort tockt und klappert Joe Berardi (ich sage nur Non Credo) die Rhythmik zu seinen Streunereien auf der Kontrabassgitarre. Dazu spielen der Brian-Setzer-erfahrene, als Posaunist bzw. Tubaspieler auch in Bill Barrett‘s Circle Of Willis oder Rich West's Bedouin Hornbook engagierte Scot Ray Dobro und der oft mit Joe Baiza aktive und mit den Brassbands Brassum und Immediately bereits auf pfMentum vertretene Dan Clucas Kornett auf den 13 Etappen von Always Outnumbered (PFMCD053). Vier Vertreter der L.A.-Szene bündeln ihren Spielwitz für ein Vorwärts-in-die-Vergangenheit, für abstrakte, aber launige Neufassungen von R‘n‘B (Rumble‘n‘Bumble) der Jahre, in denen Schallplatten noch mit 78 rpm eierten. Das elegische ‚Fearless‘ verbeugt sich vor Mingus, wie dieser von Lester Young, und macht dazu eine Miene wie der pork-pie-behütete Buster Keaton. Insgesamt wird ein Zeitalter favorisiert, in dem Musik ganz selbstverständlich schräg und ungeleckt daher kam, verräuchert und promillegetränkt und damit im grössten Kontrast zum hygienischen und gesunden Kalifornien. Jazz ist hier alles andere als ‚Clean, Shaved and Sober‘, zumindest innerlich und klanglich. Speziell die quäkige, schnarrig gepresste oder auch rotzig schmetternde Trompete tut sich dabei hervor, während in der Dobro an sich schon Steinbeck- und On-the-road-Feeling resonieren. Liebig selbst knurrt dazu sonore, erdige Brauntöne. Von Retro und Kopie ist das meilenweit entfernt, die Kompositionen sind nie weniger als sophisticated und ungeniert postmodern, letztlich mehr an speziellen Sounds und der Freiheit des Als ob interessiert als an so faulem wie sturem Stilpurismus. Erst, Lonewolf‘ ist vom Ansatz her tatsächlich ein Blues, wenn auch mit exzentrischen Trompetengrowls.
(Rigo Dittman, Bad Alchemy)
[Steuart Liebig continues a path with the Tee-Tot Quartet that he already walked with The Mentones. Like there, Joe Berardi (all I need say is Non Credo) knocks and bangs rhythm to his vagabonding on the bass guitar. Also playing are Scot Ray on dobro - - Brian-Setzer-experienced, also engaged as trombone, respectively tuba player in Bill Barrett's Circle of Willis or Rich West's Bedouin Hornbook - - and Dan Clucas on cornet - - who often is active with Joe Baiza and has already been represented on pfMentum with the brass bands Brassum and Immediately. On the 13 tracks of Always Outnumbered (PFMCD053), four representatives of the L.A. scene bring together their playingeniousness for a go ahead-into-the-past for abstract, yet fun new interpretations of R'n'B (Rumble'n'Bumble) from those years, when records still bumbled on 78 rpms. The elegaic “Fearless” bows to Mingus, like he did for Lester Young, and makes a face like pork-pie sheltered Buster Keaton. All in all, an era is favored during which music sounded confidently off and unslick, smokey and liquor-drenched, and hence in greatest contrast to hygienic and healthy California. Jazz in this case is anything but “Clean, Shaved and Sober,” at least from the inside and from its sound. In this respect the squeaky squeezed or sometimes snotty belting trumpet stands out while in the dobro Steinbeck and On the Road feelings resonate. Liebig himself growls sonorously earthy brown tones along. Miles away from retro and copying, the compositions are never less than sophisticated and unashamedly postmodern, ultimately interested more in particular sounds and the freedom of “as if” rather than an stylistic purism that is as much foul as it is stubborn. Foremost, “Lonewolf” is in its conception really a blues, even with its eccentric trumpet growls.]
(Better translation to follow)
An interesting mix between blues, rock 'n' roll, bop, swing and free jazz, and you will find most of them integrated in all the tunes, which are dedicated to Mingus, Robert Johnson, Louis Armstrong, Muddy Waters and Skip James. Very aptly, the band's lead instruments are dobro and trumpet, an interesting combination which works very well for the concept displayed here, which is straightforward fun without being cheap. The band consists of Steuart Liebig on fretless contrabassguitar, Joseph Berardi on drumset and percussion, Dan Clucas on cornet and Scot Ray on dobro, four excellent musicians, with the electric dobro especially opening new perspectives. This is highly rhythmic and enjoyable music, with once in a while a slower melancholy blues, bringing a mixture that is pretty unique and interesting. The down-side of such an approach is the emotional distance it creates, much in the same vein as much of Steven Bernstein's music. It's nice to hear, interesting, fun too, yet it's not heartbreaking or very expressive music, despite the incredible effort made by Dan Clucas. His cornet playing is in some of the tracks absolutely fantastic.
Steuart Liebig's Tee-Tot Quartet is one of his grooviest projects, along with The Mentones. In fact, the two bands are clearly connected, personnel-wise (drummer Joseph Berardi plays in both) and in spirit and style. In the Tee-Tot Quartet, Tony Atherton's alto sax and Bill Barrett's harmonica are replaced by the cornet of Dan Clucas and the dobro of Scot Ray — in that order: Clucas gets the melodic lines and occasional unison lines with Liebig's contrabassguitar, while Ray's dobro adds the same kind of grit to the group's sound that Barrett brings to The Mentones. The music on Always Outnumbered ranges from groovy blues-based tracks to mock-jazz tunes ("Sunshine Candy"), to more freeform slow numbers with a distinctive Mingus flavor ("Serenade," "Mercy Kitchen," "Fearless" where Liebig's snakelike bass work gets to shine). If these pensive moments have their appeal, the album's strength resides in hot pieces like "07-04-00," "Chucktown," and "Barrelfoot Grind" — tracks where the quartet locks in tight, balancing character playing with attitude and creative license (a phrase that could very well sum up Liebig's approach to composition, be it for groups like this or for contemporary chamber music ensembles). Some of Liebig's projects feature complex and difficult music (very rewarding too, mind you). Like The Mentones' output, this first opus by his Tee-Tot Quartet is based on rootsy beat-driven music that can very well appeal to fans of modern jazz and blues, who might widen their horizons in the process. For, accessible as it may be, this music still has enough bite to deserve a key spot in Liebig's expanding oeuvre.
Francois Couture, All Music Guide
The latest concoction from bassist Steuart Liebig is a conglomeration of progressive jazz and American roots music. An unlikely combo indeed, yet the leader and his quartet pull it off and make it all sound quite endearing and vibrant, to complement the organic attributes devised within the acoustic-electric format.
On this extravaganza, cornetist Dan Clucas summons imagery of 1920's hornist Bix Beiderbecke, coupled with dobro player Scot Ray's boisterous jazz-blues phrasings. However, it's Liebig who clearly shines as the director of operations here, as his fluidly pumping lines anchor the variable flows along with drummer Joseph Berardi's snappy groove attack.
At times, one thinks of an unlikely fusion of vintage jazz and bop, forming some sort of oddball alliance with blues-rock. With that, the band morphs into a continuum of wily arrangements that intermittently straddle the free zone. On “Cleaned, Shaved and Sober,” Ray's weepy slide riffs provide a rather eerie contrast to Clucas' lamenting lines. It all rings like one of those after-hours jam sessions, where everyone is feeling the effects of boozing and storytelling.
Lucid imagery comes to the forefront throughout, when the group also kicks out the proverbial jams via rollicking and rolling jazz-rock vamps. Otherwise, the musicians stream the avant element into select passages, which is a facet that adds a notch of zaniness to this wildly entertaining set, dappled with knotty time signatures and a few barn-burning style meltdowns.
In sum, Liebig has a seemingly endless bag of tricks at his disposal. Like an expert chess player, we can only try and anticipate his next move.
By Glenn Astarita
“Tee-tot” is an apt onomatopoeic term for the semi-drunk, limping rhythms put across by this oddball quartet. Led by West Coast “contrabassguitarist” Steuart Liebig, the group boasts a frontline of cornet (Dan Clucas) and Dobro (Scot Ray), with Joseph Berardi supplying understated drums and percussion. The music’s warped, blues-jazz flavor belies its chamberlike precision; it’s something Dave Douglas and Bill Frisell might have come up with if locked in a room together. The themes—usually voiced by cornet and Dobro in unison—defy any clear major-minor schema, reflecting Liebig’s head for atonal composition but also his love of musical tongue-in-cheek.
There’s a sparse, haunted, far-off quality to some pieces, such as “Serenade,” “Fearless” and “Mercy Kitchen,” balanced by the smartass surf-rock of “Bobtail,” the wobbly bright-tempo swing of “Chucktown” and the disjointed beat of “Barrelfoot Grind.” Clucas moves between muted and open horn, while Berardi uses brushes to give even the more assertive pieces a gentler impact. Ray, who has recorded as a trombonist (hear 2003’s Active Vapor Recovery featuring Nels Cline), gets a fantastically pure tone from the Dobro on the quieter tracks, though the instrument sounds less unique, more like a conventional guitar, when Ray opts for distortion.
One of the least predictable handlers of the electric bass, Liebig plays a restrained role in this group, as he does in his more classically oriented Minim quartet. He can solo, no doubt, but more often we hear him anchoring the groove or stepping forward with clear melodies, extending the quartet’s contrapuntal options.
This is LA area bass great, Steuart Liebig's 13th disc as a leader and again he has expanded his vision with another unique ensemble. Steuart has had a variety of ensembles like Quartetto Stig, Minim and The Mentones, as well as working with Nels Cline, Vinny Golia and Scot Ray. The Tee-Tot Quartet features members from different ensembles with the unique instrumentation of cornet, dobro, contrabass guitar & drums. Scot Ray, who also plays trombone and leads a band on Cryptogramophone, also has solo and duo dobro discs out. "07-04-00" has a sort of blues, shuffle groove with some great, greasy dobro up front. Steuart's bass is firmly in the center of each piece. "Serenade" has a a fine, laid back and bluesy theme which is well-played by the dobro and muted cornet with Steuart's sublime bass playing the poignant melody underneath. On "Wrong How Long" the dobro and bass solo superbly together and around one another ever so intricately. Throughout this fine disc, Steuart has written a series of earthy and memorable melodies that give the dobro and cornet a chance to play lots of inspired solos. This is one of those discs that almost anyone can enjoy since it is not that "out there" and has enough earthy tunes and inspired solos to make everyone smile.
I came in contact with Steuart Liebig's work through Bill Barrett since Bill collaborated to the two Mentones CD and I tend to follow most of Bill's output. The Tee-Tot Quartet is Steuart's latest formation (sans Bill), an unusual blend of instruments for a progressive type of jazz-rock that really is outside the realm of what I commonly listen to.
Always Outnumbered is the Tee-Tot quartet's first release. I don't know if the term jam-jazz-rock has been coined, but to me it's an apt description of what this surprising band does. The line up is Joseph Berardi on drums, Steuart Liebig on bass, Scot Ray on dobro and Dan Clucas on cornet. The latter two bring different sonorities and related influences to the overall sound of the band. Clucas' spans the period between 30s early jazz and blue note era trumpet while Ray brings in a rootsy blues sound as well as the more oriental material he's known for in his solo work (on his stunning album Rumi).
Since the material written is in neither of these genres, what you get is an avant-garde blend of these that's hard to define stylistically. It's very listenable however, which is the first quality I tend to look for in a jazz record. That's not to say that the avant-garde knob is not cranked up quite high, but there's always in anchor in the music, whether it's a background groove by Liebig and Berardi (as in 07-04-00, the opening number) or a melody by Clucas, Ray and/or Liebig himself (as in Mercy Kitchen).
The sonar landscape ranges from quiet, sparse moments (Serenade) to pretty brutally intense parts (as in Chucktown) where the improvs range pretty far out. I'm sometimes surprised myself that these sections don't actually lose me. I suspect it's partly due to my own ears (and brain) having adapted to a higher degree of harmonic exploration than what I used to be able to take (listening these last couple of years to a lot of MMW, Bad Plus and Ray and Barrett's own Gutpuppet must have helped...) I also think that there's an element of familiarity in the sounds, and despite being stylistically nowhere near the 30s jazz, blues or indian music that form of the sonic influences, these constitute a grounding that I relate to to take in the wilder things happening.
Altogether a very cool record, that I will be listening to again and again, probably discovering a lot of new stuff to it over time. Much recommended!
Benoit Felton (Musical Ramblings)
A Post-Modern Renaissance Man, West Coast bassist Steuart Liebig is a classically trained composer with numerous pieces to his credit, from orchestral scores to works for unaccompanied contrabassguitar. Liebig calls upon myriad sources as inspiration for his varied projects, from his formative experiences in blues and rock bands to early sideman gigs with soul jazz pianist Les McCann and free saxophonist Julius Hemphill.
Liebig brings his expansive compositional knowledge to American roots music on Always Outnumbered, the debut recording of the recently formed Tee-Tot Quartet (named after bluesman Rufus Payne, an early mentor to Hank Williams Sr.). Similar to The Mentones (another of his many ensembles), the Tee-Tot Quartet combines traditional American roots music with free improvisation, fusing abstracted variations on early blues and jazz styles with pastoral Americana and brief detours into free jazz.
Inspired by the rousing Dixieland of Louis Armstrong and his Hot Fives, the soulful blues of Skip James, Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters as well as the sublime work of country pioneer Hank Williams and jazz modernist Charles Mingus, the diverse session encompasses a wealth of moods that range from haunting, cinematic ballads to angular Beefheartian blues, bolstered by a penchant for bursts of free form chaos.
The leader's six string fretless electric contrabassguitar, an instrument of expansive tonal qualities, serves as the quartet's harmonic fulcrum. Liebig's elastic bass lines and fluid melodic contours provide the unit with an unwavering foundation, supported by Mentones drummer Joseph Berardi's buoyant trap set rhythms.
The unorthodox front-line pairs Scot Ray's electrified dobro with Dan Clucas' expressive cornet. Ray (also an accomplished trombonist) generates a kaleidoscopic array of sound with his amplified dobro; from languid slides to fragmentary picking, his instrument's resonator hums with ghostly blues inflection one minute, scintillating crystalline shards the next. Dan Clucas' expressionistic approach resides in the same continuum as Cootie Williams and Lester Bowie; his blustery phrases spiral into a thicket of chattering growls and pungent slurs when not plying plangent, muted cadences.
With their catchy melodies, countrified twang and bluesy demeanor, the Tee-Tot Quartet belongs to a long line of folk/blues deconstructionists. At their most ebullient, their quirky melodic sensibility conjures the surreal Americana of Bill Frisell's collaborations with Ron Miles, as well as Dave Tronzo's mercurial work with Steven Bernstein, while the more tortuous excursions invoke the oblique angles and jagged rhythms popularized by such luminaries as Fred Frith and Curlew. Rough around the edges yet highly accessible, Always Outnumbered is one of Liebig's most enjoyable albums in a growing discography.
Troy Collins (All About Jazz)
The emblematic wealth of practical intricacies informing both the
playing and the compositional aptitude of contrabass guitarist Liebig is
only slightly less conspicuous in "Always outnumbered", a record where
the reverence for time-honoured genres such as Dixieland and blues meets
the perpetual determination in trying something innovative in terms of
raw-boned phraseology and not exactly standard rhythmic notions. Liebig
is assisted by three teammates of undeniable ability: Joseph Berardi
(drums, percussion), Scot Ray (dobro) and Dan Clucas (cornet). Tee-Tot
work remarkably amidst arrangements that fit the familiar and the
bizarre together, calling to mind impressions from distant eras
immediately pushed away by sequences of contrapuntal malice and
successions of solos that might let us think of a juggler and a clown
swapping heated opinions and a few glancing blows in the middle of a
circus ring. The musicians seem to recognize no impediment to cooperate
in whatever the score imposes, evidently complying with the leader's
directives yet gifting the pieces with a rare sensitiveness even in the
most intricate sections. There's much to be glad about everywhere in the
disc, and I'm sure that this album is going to persuade the students of
the respective instruments, too: the guys play with virtuosity and
gusto, never exceeding the limits that divide skill from dullness.
Massimo Ricci (TOUCHING EXTREMES)
Liebig leads this offbeat jazz/blues group through his oddly angled compositions. He is awesomely skilled on his contrabass guitar too, and his inventive playing sets the tone throughout this CD. It’s mostly a down and dirty affair, with Scot Ray on dobro, Joe Berardi on drums, and Dan Clucas on cornet. I like what Ray does with his dobro, whipping out wild electrified squiggles and occasionally picking a more down-home country blues thing. Clucas seems a pretty good jazz blower, one who is cool enough to use his mute to spice things up here and there with some nutty wah-wah sounds. Berardi is the perfect drummer for this quartet, solidly in the pocket while keeping things fresh with imaginative little touches. The cornet and dobro are often playing the melody in unison and that’s a great sound. The CD starts with a cool stroll through a back-alley, and it ends with a saloon-style blues shuffle.
Max Level (KFJC)
If you want to read my notes on this album, click here.