Saxophonist Dave Liebman joined guitarist John Stowell and bassist Don Thompson on three tunes on Stowell's The Banff Sessions (Origin Records, 2002). More than a decade later, Stowell and Liebman have teamed up on a duo outing, Blue Rose. The two artists' take on a bunch of jazz standards and Great American Songbook tunes has a beautiful fluidity in this pared down setting. Stowell's lines are crisp and clean, while Liebman's keening soprano sax slices sweetly through the guitarist chords, while his tenor has a fiery and undomesticated sound.
The duo opens with the title tune, from the Duke Ellington songbook. "Blue Rose," the song, was written by Ellington specifically for vocalist Rosemary Clooney, for an album of the same name, released on Columbia Records in 1956. Stowell and Liebman give the tune a plucky turn. Liebman's blowing the soprano sax here, proving why is is one of the top practitioners of the "straight horn." His tone has a sweetness, a purity of tone as his notes twine themselves around Stowell's warm string play.
Liebman switches to tenor for saxophonist Wayne Shorter's "Fe Fi Fo Fum." Liebman, on tenor, is one of the more recognizable voices on that particular horn. His tone can be clean, but it will switch, unexpectedly, to segments of gruff, growly blowing that threatens to break out into a free zone. The duo goes back to Ellington territory, with Billy Strayhorn's "Isfaran." Liebman's tenor blossoms out of an extended Stowell solo, giving the tune a forlorn mood. Cole Porter's "Everything I Love" brings back a bright mood, with Liebman's tenor sounding particularly frisky.
Liebman, surpisingly, switches to piano for pianist Bill Evans' "Time Remembered," for a poignant and ruminative take on the tune, much in line with Evans many recorded versions. Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Until Paisagem" has a restraint, a beautiful delicacy. Liebman's back on soprano, with an added richness to his sound on this Brazilian groove.
Two veterans, Stowell and Liebman, take on this set of standard tunes in their own distinctive way. A gorgeous, uncluttered set, exploring the purity and beauty of the familiar.