CD review

Jonny Liebeck – ‘Mellow Mind’

Jonny Liebeck – Mellow Mind
(Self-release. CD Review by Alison Bentley)

The Mellow Mind of pianist Jonny Liebeck brings together his love of jazz and Latin music, and his nine original compositions here have absorbed the grooves of electronic dance music too.

Liebeck has a highly accomplished classical organ background; harmony is what lured Liebeck into jazz, and, in Daydreaming Bill Evans’ sweet chords in particular. There’s a Chick Corea feel to the way the tune tumbles from chord to chord, in a jazz waltz with a more modern backbeat from  Andrew McLean‘s drums. Liebeck’s acoustic piano solo has an expressive purity and sense of exploration. Mellow State has circling chords in a Glasper-ish way with luscious Fender Rhodes tremolo on keyboard and fierce jazz-rock beat. Boris Latinov’s guitar traces the melody with staccato precision till he lays right back into the half time solo sections. Every time the chords make their surefooted way from the drum solo interludes back into the tune, it brings a smile to the face.

Chances, says Liebeck, is about the music industry and the need to “take chances  and opportunities…if something hasn’t worked out, pick yourself up and try again,  and keep going”- and more so now than ever. Bassists are Rio Kai and Tom Mason, though we’re not told who’s on which track. Strong acoustic bass and ringing keyboard chords plunge you into a Latin groove with traces of EDM in the drumming. There’s even a miniature bass drop to lead us back into the striking guitar/keyboard harmonies. Liebeck has “transcribed a bit of Herbie in my time”, and Hancock’s influence is strong in his warm solo here.

When Liebeck was a “young organist getting into jazz,” he rehearsed in London with a “Brazilian man, amazing drummer and sadly homeless” – a huge influence. (Liebeck has also worked with renowned Cuban-born jazz violinist Omar Puente.) Chico is named for the drummer, almost a samba with its carefree skipping melody and unexpected hard bop bridge. The sinewy bass solo spells out the chords, the energy never dropping. Journey describes “the musical life.” It’s on a funky even keel, a strong backbeat with cymbal rushes and infectious keyboard riffs. It’s the harmony that builds the tension behind the rock distortion in the Scofield-esque guitar solo. Soulful Feeling is a carefully-sculpted piece, the guitar skimming the chords’ surface and holding them together. The montunos’ grooves loosen as the band pick up on Liebeck’s energy.

The laid back hip hop of Nostalgic Evenings has a delicate, crisp guitar theme and more Benson-ish solo. Neatly-placed descending keyboard riffs orientate you in the piece. In Memories ambient keyboard chords wash over cymbals that trickle into subtle drum and bass grooves with a strong Latin underpinning. The minor melody is deceptively simple till some spicy chords lead you to another section with a clave-led dance feel. Liebeck’s Fender Rhodes solo elucidates the chords with real feeling, while Latinov’s solo is joyfully explosive. In contrast, the drum-less Reflections is dreamy as the dark bass tugs against the keyboard. Liebeck works regularly with house producers, and many of his harmonies reflect that. The changing chords behind the repeated theme colour each phrase differently.

A lot of thought has gone into these arrangements, blending and contrasting the sounds in a very satisfying way. It’s a highly enjoyable album with more to find each time you listen.

Jonny Liebeck’s self-released debut album Mellow Mind is out now.  Also see INTERVIEW

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