Understanding the concept of The Puzzle, Lieb’s second “new" group recording is simple: As he states: “Improvising is a matter of solving a puzzle.” Yes, of course it is. The difficulty lies in the execution and that’s when the fun begins.
The Puzzle, EXPANSION'S new recording on the Whaling City Sound label centers on the construction skills of the group featuring five extraordinary musicians—Lieb on soprano sax and wooden flute; Matt Vashlishan (reeds); Bobby Avey (keys); Tony Marino (bass) and Alex Ritz (drums). Each one is a heavy lifter… each one a puzzlesolver. As the eleven tracks unfold, it’s interesting and revealing to see how the puzzle analogy works. The musical elements get scattered about at the onset. Next, the improvisation and extrapolation are addressed as these pieces begin finding their place in the whole scheme. Eventually, it all comes together and the assembled puzzle gets an opportunity to shine.
With Liebman, a master improviser, showing the way, EXPANSIONS directs its energy towards dissembling and reassembling the vernacular of jazz. At the core, this group is an adventurous ensemble, eager to invent and constantly in search of new terrain to explore. Its debut album skirted the outer edges of new jazz interpolation and concepts with a profoundly intellectual approach to composition and improvisation. The Puzzle finds the band getting even deeper into the headier aspects of the process, daring each other to find fresh ways of considering the music at hand.
Songs like “The Thing That Wouldn’t Leave” embrace that challenge. “The Thing” according to composer/bassist and long time Liebman associate Tony Marino, addresses the whole ever present matter of dissonance versus consonance. The opening track, “Hat Trick,” penned by reed man Matt Vashlishan, is at first a playful romp with a handful of highly rhythmic and intervallic based motifs all coming from seemingly various directions, with the bass, piano, and sax all finally meeting up in the end. Album closer “Danse De La Fureur” is a Liebman-adapted track excerpted from an Olivier Messiaen composition written while this 20th century master master was a prisoner in a World War II prison camp. It is bruising and maniacal, dark and disturbing, uniquely Expansions-esque.
And so goes the entire recording. For those listeners who like jazz to tickle their cerebral cortex, that like a good challenge when they choose what music to listen to, Liebman has always been an excellent choice. Match Lieb’s vast skills and energetic spirit with the accompaniment and contributions of the group members and you get The Puzzle, an intensely satisfying recording with all the right pieces coming together… a completed puzzle sure to please fans of contemporary and serious jazz