Sidney Bechet is rightly hailed as one of the seminal figures of this music, putting his stamp on the NOLA clarinet tradition shortly after its dawn, codifying and expanding the soloist's language through his early recordings, and blazing a trail on soprano saxophone. But he was also a fine melodist, a fact which is often overlooked when his accomplishments are considered, weighed, and packaged for historical use. With this engaging duo date, saxophonist Dave Liebman and guitarist John Stowell alm to remind us about the beauty of Bechet's compositional handiwork. While Liebman is always a wildcard, cutting every which way in his varied pursuits, he avoids extremes in interpreting Bechet's music. He's certainly no carbon copy of the man -- don't look for Liebman to paint precisely within 90-year-old lines or ape Bechet's trademarked, mile-wide soprano vibrato -- but he's also not one to distort the image of the honoree. Stowell, likewise, taps into his creative reserves while maintaining a sense of respect. Together, they draw on the high times, leisurely spirits, and nostalgic breezes that carried much of Bechet's output, while also making clear that this outing is no museum piece. The title track -- a signature of sorts for Bechet -- is the thematic thread that's sewn through the program. This pair starts things off with a wistful duo take on that classic, Stowell delivers a classically-oriented expansion on the song about halfway through the album, and Liebman closes things out by turning it into a meditation on twilight for solo piano. Between and around those takes, eight other Bechet compositions and one Gershwin perennial emerge. Highlights include a lighthearted "Daniel," the gorgeously seductive "Premier Bal," a "Nous Deux" with a romantic guitar introduction and a Brazilian tinge, and a developed "Summertime" bookended by Liebman's mystical wood flute wanderings. But to be perfectly honest, marking standouts may be a waste of time. Every single number on Petite Fleur
has its undeniable charms.