Winner of the Parliamentary Jazz Award for Best Media, 2019


by Ian Mann

April 21, 2015


"Jazz Talks" coheres well as an album and represents the work of a revered master in the company of three highly accomplished younger apprentices.

Vein feat. Dave Liebman

“Jazz Talks”

(Unit Records UTR 4556)

“Jazz Talks” is a collaboration between the Swiss trio collectively known as Vein and the great American saxophonist Dave Liebman. Liebman, a former Miles Davis sideman, is justly ranked as one of the world’s top saxophone players. He is also an acclaimed educator and a serial collaborator who has worked prolifically with British and European musicians, among them guitarist Phil Robson, the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra and Paris based pianist Jean-Marie Machado.

Liebman needs little more by way of introduction and has been collaborating with Vein since 2009, the result of an email approach from the group’s pianist Michael Arbenz. Following a successful short tour the newly assembled quartet continued to perform together and documented their music on the live album “Lemuria”, released in 2012. “Jazz Talks” represents their first studio recording but the album still retains something of the vitality of a live recording having been captured at a single recording session in Basle by engineer Hans Kumke on 5th December 2013. It appears on the Swiss Unit Records label and was made with the support of the Swiss radio station SRF 2 Kultur.

Vein was formed in 2006 by twin brothers Michael Arbenz (piano) and Florian Arbenz (drums) together with bassist Thomas Lahns. “Jazz Talks” represents their ninth album overall and the group have also collaborated with other leading American musicians including trombonist Glenn Ferris and alto saxophonist Greg Osby. Vein’s sound draws on many influences from swing to M-Base and there have been occasions when they have been guilty of trying to sound rather too self consciously humorous and eclectic, their most recent trio recording “Vote For Vein” being a case in point.

But Vein can play and are a band that are happy to take risks, ideal credentials for collaborators of the perennial musical explorer that is Dave Liebman. Indeed the presence of Liebman seems to galvanise the trio on a set that has received almost unanimous critical acclaim across Europe. “Jazz Talks” presents a unified group identity that remains true across a set that embraces three adventurous interpretations of four well known jazz standards, six original compositions from within the ranks of the quartet and three snippets of pure improvisation under the generic title “Small Talk” that feature Liebman in musical dialogue with each trio member in turn.

Despite their previous live experiences the sessions for “Jazz Talks” were totally unrehearsed as the group strove for a sense of spontaneity in the studio. That approach is perhaps best exemplified by the opening track, a stunning collective improvisation around the theme of “All the Things You Are” that seems to utilise Jerome Kern’s famous melody as a kind of guideline sketch as the quartet explore an impressive range of styles and tempos in just three and a half minutes. 

Liebman’s “Negative Space” begins with a passage of broodingly lyrical solo piano from Michael Arbenz. Liebman appears on soprano saxophone, the horn that he favours for much of this album although we do get to hear some tenor too. His eloquent soprano solo here embraces many moods, soft and reflective or soaring and joyous by turns with empathic support coming from the the rest of the group.

“Small Talk 1” is the first of a series of wholly improvised dialogues and finds Liebman’s tenor buzzing and fluttering in a conversation with the percussive double bass sounds of Thomas Lahns.

Written by Michael Arbenz “Stories of a Century” is the first of a series of compositions sourced from the core of the Vein trio. With its chunky, angular funk inspired rhythms its the most contemporary sounding piece thus far and features some terrific interplay between Liebman and the composer plus fine and fiery solos from both. Liebman is again in excellent form and his playing on soprano is incisive, imaginative and impassioned. Florian Arbenz is an energetic presence behind the kit and also enjoys an extended drum feature.

Also by Michael Arbenz “Black Tortoise” begins in more reflective mood with Liebman’s pensive tenor musings subtly supported by piano, bass and brushed drums. The composer contributes an expansive but flowingly lyrical solo and there’s also a melodic bass feature from the excellent Lahns.

“Jammin’ In The Children’s Corner” comes from the pen of Florian Arbenz and is as playful as the title suggests with its shuffling, rocky hooks and grooves allied to a sparky, spirited dialogue between Liebman’s soprano and the composer’s drums.

“Small Talk 2” is even more obviously improvised as Liebman enters into thoughtful dialogue with Michael Arbenz at the piano. At a little over a minute and a half it’s a charming, lyrical miniature.

“Autumn Leaves” explores similar territory to the opener but at greater length, it’s an unhurried collective exploration of Joseph Kosma’s tune with Liebman’s mercurial soprano taking flight a couple of minutes in followed by solos from Lahns on nimble double bass and the consistently inventive Michael Arbenz at the piano. Liebman then takes over again to steer us home, his tone now positively joyous.

Liebman is also a fine player of the flute and various ethnic instruments and his live performances often include at least one number featuring such instruments. Michael Arbenz’s “Clear Light” features the beguiling sound of Liebman’s wood recorder on an atmospheric piece that also features the almost subliminal rustle of brother Florian’s percussion.

Also by Michael Arbenz the following “Waking With a Start” represents a complete contrast, the busy bustling theme and rhythms exemplifying the energy suggested by the title. Liebman’s soprano alternately flutters and soars above Lahn’s busy bass pulse and the quick fire chatter of Florian’s cymbals as the improvisatory process takes over. Eventually Lahns is left alone to perform a virtuoso cameo on unaccompanied double bass before the hectic main theme returns. Exhilarating stuff.

“Small Talk 3” concludes the totally improvised pieces, the shortest conversation of the three as Liebman’s feathery soprano fleetingly exchanges ideas with Florian’s hand drums.

Interestingly the standard “April in Paris” is jointly credited to its composer Vernon Duke plus Dave Liebman. It’s an interesting interpretation with Liebman’s tenor sax musings empathetically supported by the Vein trio but hardly radical enough to warrant a co-writing credit.

Another standard, “You and the Night and the Music” takes the album storming out as the quartet harness an old fashioned swing sound that forms the basis for fluent and lively solos from Liebman on tenor and Michael Arbenz at the piano with brother Florian enjoying a set of powerful drum breaks. It’s basically an old school tear-up and it ends the album on a positive, highly energetic note.

Despite the diversity of styles on offer “Jazz Talks” coheres well as an album and represents the work of a revered master in the company of three highly accomplished younger apprentices. The Vein trio are currently on tour in the UK and are scheduled to perform gigs with Liebman in Manchester, London and Birmingham at the end of May. These have the potential to be even more exciting than the album and I hope to cover the Birmingham event in due course. In the meantime this album offers much for the jazz listener to enjoy. This Transatlantic, cross generational alliance represents a highly fruitful partnership.

Forthcoming live dates are as follows;

Vein Trio
April 21   St Ives,  Jazz Club
April 22   Grimsby,  Jazz Club
April 23   Newcastle, Recital Room, Newcastle University
April 24 Liverpool, Capstone Theatre
June   Glasgow Jazz Festival
Vein Trio with Dave Liebman
May 26 Manchester, Band on the Wall
May 28 London, Vortex
May 29 Birmingham, Recital Hall, Birmingham Conservatoire

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