The Dave Liebman Group – Turnaround, The Music of Ornette Coleman (2010)

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Photo by David Sokol

by Mark Saleski

Harmolodics. It’s not difficult to find decently-written descriptions of Ornette Coleman’s musical philosophy. A general understanding of his concept can lead the listener to a deeper appreciation of the music. I thought I understood what Ornette was getting at…until having the opportunity to see him play live in Boston after the release of Tone Dialing. There were times during that show when I was absolutely certain that the group had completely lost track of what they were doing. Just when I was certain that they’d have to stop and restart, there would be an abrupt pause, followed by a crisp shift in direction. It was kind of shocking. These new musical interactions presented in sharp relief the malleability and depth of Coleman’s music.

I began to experience Ornette’s music much like I might look at cubist-style art, realizing that I was hearing all aspects of the music at once. That is, my synaesthetic tendencies started to bloom, hearing the music as I might see a Picasso, with several angles of an image superimposed.

When I learned that saxophonist Dave Liebman was releasing an Ornette Coleman tribute album, I wondered what approach he would take. While Liebman has been involved on some fairly “out” projects over the course of his career (including some stellar work with early 1970’s Miles Davis), his compositions have usually been built on a significant amount of harmonic structure. What would this man do with Ornette’s music, melodically rich, but mostly devoid of traditional harmonic guidance? Liebman describes his approach as “loaning” harmony to some of the more likely material.

Many of the selections on Turnaround find Liebman and guitarist Vic Juris trading lines, playing in unison, and swapping support roles…sometimes all within a single tune!

On the always gorgeous “Kathelin Gray,” Juris plays a stately acoustic guitar in support of Liebman’s melodic musings. This pairing is reprised in latter half of the stunning “Face Of The Base”/”Beauty Is A Rare Thing,” in which bassist Tony Marino and drummer Marko Marcinko duet for the first half before the guitar and saxophone take over for the second.

Examples of exhilarating unison play are everywhere, from the sprightly “Bird Food” to the edgier “Cross Breeding” to the opening “Enfant,” which adds further intrigue by stretching and compressing the tempo here and there.

Several of Liebman’s arrangements here took my ears completely by surprise. I was not expecting the melody of “Lonely Woman” to be played on the wooden flute. It really loaned the tune an otherworldly quality. The title track is similarly impressive, with the rhythm section at first playing at a different tempo than the guitar and sax. Just when you’ve adjusted to that peculiarity, the rhythm section switches over to straight swing. Really great stuff, and kudos must go out to Vic Juris for providing those “melting” guitar chords.

Turnaround closes out with “The Sky,” starting with a solo percussion segment before Liebman launches into a shattering explosion of sound. This eventually gives way to the full band winding their way through several melodic passages. It was like listening to a set of logical conclusions that managed to come into focus from near-chaos. Logic out of chaos? Yes, that’s the music of Ornette Coleman in microcosm.

Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski is a writer and music obsessive based out of the woods of central New Hampshire. A past contributor to, and Salon, he originated several of our weekly features including the Friday Morning Listen, (Cross the) Heartland, WTF! Wednesday, and Sparks Fly on E Street. Follow him on Twitter: @msaleski. Contact Something Else! at
Mark Saleski
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