The meeting of two musical giants is a pretty common thing these days. Far more uncommon is the first collaboration of two musicians from different generations and continents. That is precisely what is so unique and wonderful about the recent partnership of French piano legend Martial Solal and American saxophone giant Dave Liebman and their new recording, Masters In Bordeaux.
Born in Algiers and based in Paris since 1950, Solal is arguably the most important name in jazz from Europe. The 90-year-old pianist has been at the cutting edge of jazz music since the 1950s, as one of the first Europeans to master the bop language, scoring Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless, leading an extraordinary big band, and collaborating with important voices in the music from around the globe.
Twenty years Solal’s junior, NEA Jazz Master Liebman has been a force in the spread of the music. His mastery of the saxophone and his musical eclecticism have made him a role model to many younger players. Liebman’s extensive résumé covers sideman roles with many of the masters, including Elvin Jones and Miles Davis, as well as leading his own revolutionary ensembles.
Though a fan of Solal’s work, Liebman had never met or played with him before 2016. It was the saxophonist’s former student Jean-Charles Richard who was able to bring the two together. Being Solal’s son-in-law, Richard was able to propose a meeting. Liebman provided some music of his longtime collaboration with the great pianist Richie Beirach. It wasn’t long before Solal reached out in hopes of playing with Liebman.
Their first performances were at the Sunside Jazz Club in Paris. Liebman was struck by Solal’s complete control and harmonic adventurousness. The two performed standards and a couple of originals in two successful evenings. The exhilaration of performing together, the challenge of their demanding musical knowledge, and their instant rapport made further meetings a priority.
The duo’s next opportunity came when Jean-Jacques Quesada invited them to perform a concert at Château Guiraud in Sauternes, France as part of the Jazz and Wine Festival in Bordeaux.
The material was selected on the spot. The two decided to play standards that they knew well but that would prove to be intriguing because of the duo’s flair for harmonic experimentation.
The program begins with a fascinatingly deconstructed version of Kern and Hammerstein’s “All The Things You Are,” the two musicians seemingly finishing each other’s musical statements. Cole Porter’s “Night and Day” is introduced by Solal’s introspective plucking before Liebman’s resonant tenor begins to sing alongside, both bringing real sparks with their playing. Spritely soprano introduces Miles Davis’s “Solar” while Solal’s piano plays brilliant and allusive lines setting off some amazing interplay.
Porter’s “What Is This Thing Called Love” begins with a fantastic, pointillist tenor cadenza commences with an exhilarating duo passage, followed by a poignant Solal solo. The duo’s take on Kaper and Washington’s “On Green Dolphin Street” is measured yet still seeking. The Davis, Ramirez, and Sherman chestnut “Lover Man” concludes the set with perfectly weighted drama and intent.
In a true show of musical generosity and spirit, Martial Solal and Dave Liebman have begun a marvelous new partnership. Their new recording Masters In Bordeaux displays the duo’s quickly developing empathy and brilliance in performance.