In celebration of Birdland’s 50th anniversary, tenor sax stars Michael Brecker, Joe Lovano and Dave Liebman faced off with an intensely fiery set of jazz standards, which generously focused on the legacy of sax titan John Coltrane. The performance was broadcast live on Global Music Network, the Internet live music site. Sticking to “roots and standards,” spokesman Liebman dedicated the set to the memory of “a true original,” Grover Washington, the versatile reedman who died Dec. 17.
Set opener and closer were Coltrane classics. “Locomotion,” a racing uptempo blues, began with Liebman’s uniformly familiar style, dominated by an abundance of screeches and honks.
Lovano followed with a firm gutsy solo, but it was Brecker who fleshed the piece out with an imaginative and biting solo, pushed vigorously by his colleagues, who ultimately united for a full-bodied finale.
“Impressions” opened with a nicely tailored piano solo from Phil Markowitz, followed by Liebman’s unique ladder of screams, which are not terribly interesting, but never fail to stir up enthusiastic audience reaction. Brecker’s stringent solo was much more colorful, yet it was Lovano who topped it off with a sturdy swinging and decisively urgent solo.
Lovano, clearly the more colorful voice of the impressive triumvirate, took center stage for the ballad spot.
Johnny Green’s “Body and Soul,” the trademark of Coleman Hawkins — generally accepted as the patron saint of the tenor sax — was richly framed with warmth and imagination. The old pop standard was enriched by Lovano’s swarthy tone and enveloping creamy timbre.
Another chestnut, Isham Jones’ “There Is No Greater Love,” was pushed hard by vet drummer Billy Hart, who set a whirling, driving pace. Dr. Rufus Reid was featured with a tastefully mannered bass solo, and the beautifully unified swinging finale by the reed stars suggested a hint of the half-century-old Woody Herman sax showcase “Four Brothers.”