Recapping the Best of 2011: Paul Lieberman – “Ibeji”


Paul Lieberman did not choose the title for this album indifferently.  Ibeji is the Yoruba word for ‘twins’.  As Lieberman notes on his album, Brazilian music and American Jazz are also twins, their origins traced back to Africa but raised in different locations.  On Ibeji, Lieberman explores this relationship by utilizing two ensembles:  A Brazilian ensemble which tackles American Jazz compositions and an American Jazz ensemble which tackles Brazilian compositions.  And from these two juxtaposed reference points, Ibeji displays, quite brilliantly, the commonalities of these music heritages.  Two ensembles, two sets of compositions, two sources of music, and it results in a single cohesive album that flows wondrously from first note to last.

Your album personnel:  Paul Lieberman (alto & tenor sax, alto flute, percussion), Joel Marten (piano); American Unit of Tim Horner (drums) and Rufus Reid (bass); Brazilian unit of Jaimoe (drums), Nilson Matta (bass), Eugene Friesen (cello), Duduka da Donseca (drums), and Zaida Lieberman (vocals of “Voa Livre”).

The first track “Azul No Verde E Amarelo” is a bossa tune that cleverly uses the Miles Davis tune “Blue In Green.” as a springboard.  It reminds me of Don Pullen’s work on Blue Note with the African-Brazilian Connection (serious jazz fans will know what I’m talking about; casual or non-jazz fans should check it out).  The tempo keeps a pace to tap the foot to and moves at a decent clip, yet the tune contains a joyfulness that implies a languid serenity, giving the impression of sitting in the passenger seat of a fast car on a lazy day; one gets the sense of slowly drinking in the landscape while sitting still, even though the car is speeding along at 50mph.

That type of contradiction, a clash between what the foot says is happening and what the heart feels is happening, is a delicious element for an album to possess.  Another desired element is high musicianship displayed with emotion, laid bare.  Take, for instance, Lieberman’s take on the Bill Evans tune “My Bells”…

Lieberman takes the heart of the song and gives it his voice in a succinct one minute of beauty.  Dubbing several of his flute parts over one another, he weaves together an unaccompanied* simple yet poignant statement.  (*Album credits a cello on this track; if it’s there, it’s both subtle and seamless in the course of the tune).

Let’s talk about one of the Brazilian tunes performed by the American Jazz unit…

Lieberman takes the Jobim composition “Inutil Paisagem” and molds it into a swinging jazz tune.  Without sacrificing the roots of the original composition, Lieberman nonetheless builds an entirely different sounding tree up from those roots, one that buzzes with energy and bounces along at a decent clip.

“Voa Livre” is about as pretty a tune as you’ll run into…

Opening with Lieberman’s flute, as ephemeral and warm as sunlight, and soaring cello lines with the backing of gentle splashes of cymbals and brief piano bursts, the tune is grounded in peacefulness, which remains even as Lieberman switches to sax and the tempo and intensity increase.  When Lieberman returns to the melody as presented in the opening statement, it washes over the intensity without drowning it, giving the impression of a bird soaring contentedly over rough winds.

Ibeji is a hell of an accomplishment, and it easily ranks in the Top Five of my favorite albums of 2011.

It’s a Self-Produced album.  He appears to call the Boston area his jazz scene.

Download a free album track from AllAboutJazz, courtesy of the artist.

Available at Amazon: CD | MP3