Spiderwebmandala is a fully improvised live set by pianist Carol Liebowitz and clarinetist Bill Payne, recorded live at the Outpost Performance Space in Albuquerque in 2016. The long-time collaborators — both acolytes of free-jazz pianist Connie Crothers — exhibit a high degree of simpatico in this assemblage of nine pieces.
The music skews more toward expansive exploration in the chamber mode than the take-no-prisoners rage of players from the loft school. Yes, there is dissonance aplenty, but in measured doses. It’s music that invites you to lean in rather than doles out a beating.
Liebowitz, who comes from a classical background, favors full-fisted attacks countered by generous space. Here at least, she does not present herself as a fleet-fingered technician, but instead as a sonic voyager, pounding and willing discordant clusters of sound form her instrument. She issues dark cascades of notes like thunder rolling in from afar.
Payne — a peripatetic player whose credits include Broadway shows, big band and traveling circuses — exploits the full range of his clarinet, from flowing and sonorous to darting and squeaky. He, like Liebowitz, is less concerned with showcasing his chops than forging a deep connection with his partner in the name of unfettered musical expression.
Joining the duo on two pieces, poet Mark Weber attempts to take listeners back to the City Lights Bookstore of the ’50s with lines such as, “Lightnin’ Hopkins-singin’ cigarette rejuvenator/ Hieroglyphic cosmos-spinning pie graph.” Your appreciation of his performance may depend on your tolerance for Beat poetry recited in a voice that resembles acerbic comedian/podcaster Mark Maron.
Spiderwebmandala is by turns sharp and fuzzy, engrossing, and, here and there, dull. Ultimately, it’s mood music — as in, you’re either in the mood for it or you’re not.— Eric Snider
Feature photo by Cheryl Richards