firstset_sm

Carol Liebowitz, piano
Nick Lyons, alto saxophone

FIRST SET

by Mel Minter

“Freely improvised music”—it’s a term that can raise alarms in the stoutest of listeners. It’s been used to legitimize all sorts of undisciplined caterwaulings closer to primal scream therapy than music. But pianist Carol Liebowitz and saxophonist Nick Lyons enliven and elevate that term. Their integrity, uncompromising commitment to living in the moment, and sheer musicality make every encounter an artistic adventure. First Set (Line Art Records), their new release, invites you to join the duo on eight improvisational excursions that carry you away from the everyday.

Seven of the tracks were recorded live in May 2012, part of an informal Sunday concert series at the loft of the late pianist/composer/teacher Connie Crothers. The eighth track was laid down in the studio in 2007. All but two of the tracks are full-on improvisations. The remaining two are contrafact compositions by Crothers, “Carol’s Dream,” built on “You Stepped Out of a Dream,” and “Roy’s Joy,” based on “I’m Getting Sentimental over You.”

“Carol’s Dream” opens the album in mystery, and its muscular whimsy sets the stage for the remainder of the program. Lyons’ expressive tone has an almost human vocal quality, and Liebowitz’s visceral command of the piano’s sonorities, her skillful use of the pedals, and her lightning-quick reflexes create a lush environment for exploration. Highlights include “Turquoise Echo,” illuminated by Liebowitz’s otherworldly chords against Lyons’ questioning, probing sax. On “Twain Shall Meet,” Lyons sails over a lake of sound from Liebowitz. “The Very Thing” adds a touch of boogie, with an assertive solo from Liebowitz that turns tender and searching. “Reverie on a Sunday Afternoon” has the elasticity of a dream, reminding us that both time and space are infinitely pliable, while the propulsive “Roy’s Joy” takes an angular Monk-like attack.

Both players evince an acute sensitivity to one another and to their own internal impulses, keeping the music alive and unpredictable across a wide expanse of human feeling. You may not come away humming the tunes, but your ears will be humming from the get-go.

melminter.com (Musically Speaking: an avid listener’s observations)
November 30, 2016