In Watermelon Sugar

Dave Liebman
Lookout Farm
ECM : 1974

DL, soprano and tenor saxes, flute; John Abercrombie, electric and acoustic guitars; Richard Beirach, electric and acoustic pianos; Eleana Sternberg, vocals; Frank Tusa, bass; Badal Roy, tablas; Don Alias, congas  and bongos; Armen Halburian, percussion; Steve Sattan, tambourine, cowbell; Jeff Williams, drums.

“Sam’s Float” is mesmerizing jazz fusion that splits the difference between the visionary electric music of Miles Davis and more commercial instincts of groups like Weather Report. It’s a model of ensemble playing – the wordless vocals, Indian percussion, and guitar riffs meshing perfectly with the sturdy groove and Liebman’s chirpy-but-incisive playing. As a whole, Lookout Farm remains the high-water mark of Dave Liebman‘s career as a leader.

The facts will only get you so far. More interesting are the associations evoked by the music itself. The utopian vibe suggests that Liebman may have formed his new ensemble under the heady influence of the early 1970s movements of communal living and sustainable agriculture. You might also detect the subliminal influence of Richard Brautigan‘s whimsical fiction, particularly his surreal fable In Watermelon Sugar. Imagine the band removing themselves for a two-month residency to a farmhouse in the woods of New Hampshire, developing their sound in harmony with the surrounding fields.

But it wasn’t quite as rustic that suggests. The barn complex was rigged with various large amps and speakers, plus wired to allow the electric instruments to be cranked up to maximum volume. During the early practices, the locals claimed they could feel the tree roots shaking. One observer remarked: “It’s like Nature – but louder.”

There’s a earthy quality to the tunes that are prescient of back-to-the-land movies like Winstanley, the overlooked British classic about The Diggers, an English group who tried to overturn notions of private property and reclaim the common soil for the benefit of everyone. It didn’t end well for The Diggers, nor for the Lookout Farm band, which wasn’t able to capitalize on the artistic success of this album. But it was a shining moment nonetheless.

“Sam’s Float” – a small lake on the adjacent property that was favored by the band and the golden retriever who adopted them that summer. The tune suggests the dog was experiencing a sort of satori moment while soaking his matted fur in the cool water.

Why not take a jazz field trip to the actual historic location, one of America’s oldest active farms. Bring the kids!

Inexplicably never released on CD by ECM, the rest of Lookout Farm (and them some) is currently available as part of the Mosaic Select: Dave Liebman and Richie Beirach box set.

As for the rest of the material on that Mosaic set and other lost Liebman gems, you tell us!

Discussion9 Comments Category Dave Liebman Tags , , , , , ,

9 Responses to In Watermelon Sugar

  1. This is a great album, but so is “Drum Ode” also on ECM featuring pretty much the same players. Beirach is especially on fire! The tunes on these 2 albums seem to make up the bulk of their live sets. Much live evidence of the Lookout Farm band can be found here:

  2. Thanks, ushaped! Re Drum Ode, we agree: !

  3. I loved this record, and I’m pretty sure I saw Lookout Farm open for Weather Report after it came out. Listening to it now, it reminds me of the first Return to Forever (with Flora Purim) and the Herbie Hancock Sextet in places.

  4. dear marksullivan5,

    your a lucky dog!

  5. wow, some real tempo problems in the opening. Just not a compelling groove, somehow, in my opinion of course. Funny to hear Abercrombie bust out the “John McLaughlin” riffs, even sporting basically McLaughlin’s guitar sound, with similar action on the mid to low end. And that vibraslap, ZOMG. But I do love Liebman’s playing. It’s of course tempting to compare to Miles, but at about 4 minutes in I sense Miles would have already just cut everyone off and said “don’t do that.”

  6. Look for the Open Sky Trio records on PM. Lieb w/ Frank Tusa and Bob Moses. Very compelling listening.

  7. Weird, my download (twice) is cutting off after nine seconds….

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