The Elements: Water
by J. Barrett
It’s an old idea with new ambition. In 1973, Joe Henderson made an album called THE ELEMENTS. With a varied palette and impressive density, Henderson took 40 minutes to paint the sounds of earth, air, fire, and water. A quarter century later, Dave Liebman has the same idea, only his story is told in 4 CDs! This is the first in this long-term endeavor, showing water in all its faces (“Storm Surge”, “Reflecting Pool”, “Baptismal Font”), with detail Henderson didn’t have time to explore. And the sound is different: Liebman’s group is a quartet, with Pat Metheny bringing variety on his many guitars. The sound crashes, boils, and flies, but it also flows – and this is very fitting for what Liebman calls “The Giver of Life.”
The whole suite is based on the opening theme, stated by Metheny. It’s a simple ascending line, with gentle strums and a hint of dissonance – and the source of all which follows. Liebman now restates the theme, and Metheny joins Cecil McBee in some tangy comping. Billy Hart shines the cymbals; maybe it’s spray hitting the rocks. Liebman wails a bit at the end, which is a sign of the storm to come.
McBee opens “White Caps” with some ominous sliding, which keeps getting faster. Metheny, on guitar-synth, keeps the riff going with a nasty tone. Liebman rushes in with a honking tenor, screaming it up as the dirty-toned synth gets louder and harder. At times Metheny becomes a second horn, shouting in unison with Liebman. The tone subsides, and we’re in a fusion vein for “Heaven’s Gift”, a feature for Metheny’s clean electric. Liebman is slightly raucous when he comes in; he’s celebrating the gift. A hint of the “Water Theme” comes in a great unison bit at the end.
A pensive bass solo suddenly gets an edge; McBee runs up the stairs and looks around corners before the calm returns. This sets stage for the deep bliss of “Reflecting Pool”. Hart rings bells, Metheny strums a 48-string guitar (sounds like an autoharp) while Liebman plays wooden flute with a touch of Japan. Metheny then makes like a koto, and the echo makes ripples in the pool. Liebman’s soprano makes a different impression; it’s light and hopeful as guitar tinkles behind him.
A good-natured Liebman starts “Storm Surge” alone. Hart gets soft and intense (a little of that Elvin Jones feeling), and the theme comes high and cheerful. Not the storm you expected; Metheny is subdued in what is Liebman’s show. Hart gets a long solo; when the cymbals arrive, there is thunderation!
Metheny begins a gentle theme turning into “Baptismal Font”, and here Liebman gains muscle. Taking the tenor, going full-bore, Liebman shouts to the sky as Metheny rings pretty. “Ebb and Flow” is the loudest, with wailing and skronking, Metheny again on the synth. Most of the way it’s a two-horn section part, McBee putting vigorous strum on the bottom. The bass/drums duet works better for me than the two stars – their part is too noisy. The “Water Theme” returns, helped by much echo – making it warmer. This is my favorite version: perhaps this should been the opener. There’s also an interview with Dave, talking about the creation of this piece. It’s a neat tidbit to have, but not essential to your enjoyment.
Rating: *** ¼. It meanders in points, but it’s an enjoyable mood piece. Metheny is at his best when gentle, as in “Reflecting Pool”; Liebman shines when he’s forceful, as in “Baptismal Font.” The scope is ambitious, and the tunes do a good job of showing the aspects of water. I’m looking forward to the others.
Songs: Water: Giver of Life; White Caps; Heaven’s Gift; Bass Interlude; Reflecting Pool; Storm Surge; Guitar Interlude; Baptismal Font; Ebb and Flow; Water Theme (reprise); Dave Liebman’s Reflections on “Water”.
Musicians: David Liebman (soprano and tenor saxes, wood flute); Pat Metheny (guitars); Cecil McBee (bass); Billy Hart (drums).