Steuart Liebig / Tee-Tot Quartet: Always Outnumbered (PFMCD053)


Steuart Liebig/Tee-Tot Quartet

Joseph Berardi: drumset, percussion
Dan Clucas: cornet
Scot Ray: dobro
Steuart Liebig: contrabassguitar


07-04-00 4:58
serenade 5:06
wrong how long 4:00
stutterstep 4:26
fearless 7:49
clean, shaved and sober 3:52
bobtail 1:54
cooked and chopped 3:15
chucktown 4:17
mercy kitchen 7:26
sunshine candy 4:24
barrelfoot grind 4:26
lonewolf 4:28

© 2008 steuart liebig/
sisong music (ascap)

artwork and layout by Steuart Liebig
cover photos by Scot Ray
band photos by Tee-Tot Quartet
recorded by Wayne Peet, assisted by Aaron Druckman, at Newzone Studio, Los Angeles, 19–20 May 2007
mixed by Wayne Peet and Steuart Liebig, July–August 2007
Steuart Liebig uses Fodera basses and Fodera roundwound strings, the Raven Labs PMB-1 and pickups by Rick Turner
Joe Berardi uses Paiste cymbals and attack drums heads
big thanks to Tee-Tot, Wayne Peet, Jeff Kaiser, and Leslie Rosdol, Anya Liebig and Aron Liebig

Always Outnumbered

. . . is an unholy transfiguration of the jazz and blues canon—a perverted translation of the sacred 78s of Chicago jazz and blues circa 1920–1950 into a more sinister modern dialect. On the opening track, 07-04-00, you can hear some noxious sonic concoction brewing, an aural hormetic designed to make you stronger if you can survive the cocktail.

Tee-Tot are expatriate pioneers that flew a few light-years past Europe and landed in a neighboring multiverse with fewer happy endings. These four veterans of the Los Angeles new music scene bring something completely different to each tune, different from the last tune and different from anything you normally hear on their respective instruments.

Joe Berardi is a medium for myriad gods of groove. He’s a maniacal Baby Dodds wielding his contraption for the dark side on Sunshine Candy, an angry Fred Below demonstrating primal scream therapy through the art of the shuffle on Chucktown and on Serenade he’s a fallen military snare player tapping ‘help me die’ in Morse code in vain.

Steuart Liebig constructs wide melodic avenues through the hostile landscapes of convoluted tunes like Wrong How Long. As heard on Cooked and Chopped he uses compelling melodies to drive the band from beneath instead of walking the well-worn footpaths of predictable chord progressions. He reinvents the bass role as an interactive melodic instrument in contrast to the bebop obsession of “chasing a melodic rat around a harmonic maze.” He’s also comfortable playing little or nothing at all for large patches, as on Fearless, an oblique tribute to Mingus—a “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” for a lost and dispirited Lester Young.

Dan Clucas channels a deranged Cootie Williams, commands a gaggle of nuclear geese and employs various subsonic pitches possibly responsible for climate change. He employs all manner of ornamentation and virtual pedals from a very ill-mannered velar growl to a vibrato that would have made Clara Rockmore nervous. On Clean, Shaved and Sober, he celebrates the decline of a late-stage Bix Beiderbecke suffering from years of poor-grade Prohibition-era alcohol.

Scot Ray possesses a wide arsenal of portamento that would make any carnatic pandit blush. A seemingly infinite variety of sounds come out of his dobro’s resonator, from distressed ermine lamentations to the wailing of the damned. Considering today’s totalitarian atmosphere, Scot’s frenetic picking, rubbery phrasing and anxiety-provoking note choices on Stutterstep alone should earn him a place on a government list. Somewhere in hell an unfortunate freshman soul attempts to decipher his solo on Barrelfoot Grind.

Contemporary jazz and blues music lies wasting in a gurney of predictable mimicry, its circulation gone sluggish, its pulse nearly arrested as it grows more necrotic by the year. Tee-Tot debrides the bed sores of the sedentary modern roots scene.

Steuart has more than a few bands. They are all distinct from one another, draw from disparate sources and are all degenerate—in the best sense of the word. The dozen or so albums from these groups have explored everything from Muddy Waters to Anton Webern. There’s never a shortage of great melodies or superb improvisation, and this disc is no exception.

–Bill Barrett, Los Ageles, January 2008



SKU: PFMCD053 Category:

1 review for Steuart Liebig / Tee-Tot Quartet: Always Outnumbered (PFMCD053)

  1. 0 out of 5

    The press release probably sums this one up best . . . stating that this album combines “the influences of 1920s-30s jazz, blues and country, fused with avant garde jazz practice and a little bit of California “outsider music” aesthetic thrown in for good measure.” The Tee-Tot Quartet consists of Joseph Berardi (drums, percussion), Dan Clucas (cornet), Scot Ray (dobro), and Steuart Liebig (fretless contrabassguitar). Liebig wrote all thirteen of these instrumentals that showcase his own talents as well as those of his associates. Some of the tracks on Always Outnumbered remind us of some of the more adventurous jazz from the 1940s through the 1960s from artists who never achieved a great deal of commercial success. Strangely moody and subdued, this album was recorded for that tiny segment of the listening audience that demands credibility and substance in their music . . . (Rating: 5)

    L.A. bassist Liebig knows that many listeners think his compositions sound weird (he was the one who came up with the label name Cryptogramophone, after all), but the impression arises just because he’s a real observer; he takes the weirdness of the world as he finds it, and his music is the natural consequence. Often, though, as in his group the Mentones, he has found ways to make the strangeness slide down pretty easy, and his Tee-Tot Quartet (named after an early mentor of Hank Williams) is another example.
    Historically, Liebig will funk ya, he will blues ya, he will even metal ya occasionally just to get his greater point across. “Always Outnumbered” is his way of modernizing the blues, keeping some rhythmic flavor and some traditional structure but appropriately distancing the form somewhat from the soil while substituting a sense of unease and disconnect we can all understand. In this he made a canny choice by teaming up with Scot Ray, whose electrified dobro is capable of both the downest of Delta slidations and the noisiest of apocalyptic disruptions. Drummer Joseph Berardi always keeps substantial trashcan beats under his freeform fingernails, and cornetist Dan Clucas, though a wool-dyed avanteer, consistently allows the clear enunciations of the human voice to pour through. Liebig’s muscular six-string electric bass weaves up, down and around with such fluidity — sometimes driving, sometimes commenting or arguing — that it seems almost subconscious. Well, it is his music.

    The blues include a limping shuffle, a slow yawner, a start-stop urban strut, a poky prodder, a straight boogie and a Beefheartian boozer, all rendered ungeneric by off-center harmonies, lopsided beats and even some Arabic guitar melisma. Liebig always dishes up some of that Beefheart stew, the difference in the blues-battering being that where the Captain was at root an instinctive hippie in overalls, Liebig is more of a suburban crank schooled in Schoenberg.

    Can you dance to it? Yeah. You probably won’t, though.

    (Greg burk @

    I tend to hear Liebig’s work as straddling the avant-garde and accessible worlds. Most of the time, I’m an avant-garde kinda guy. But I tend to like Leibig’s more straightforward work best.

    This album, however, seems to straddle the straddle, as it were. Leibig’s contrabass work here is fairly conventional in a melodic sense, but his pieces are anything but. In particular, Dan Clucas’s work on the cornet is spectacular. He kinda flits through the universe as Scot Ray on dobro and Joseph Berardi on drums keep order.

    Each player takes his share of solos. Ray’s dobro work is exemplary, and he takes his turns with aplomb. But these pieces seem written to feature the cornet, and Clucas is the clear star here.

    I’m cool with that. These are well-constructed pieces played with style and emotion. In the end, I’d say this is one of my favorite Leibig efforts. Very nice.

    (Aiding and Abetting)

    STEUART LIEBIG setzt mit dem TEE-TOT QUARTET einen Weg fort, den er schon mit The Mentones beschritten hat. Wie dort tockt und klappert Joe Berardi (ich sage nur Non Credo) die Rhythmik zu seinen Streunereien auf der Kontrabassgitarre. Dazu spielen der Brian-Setzer-erfahrene, als Posaunist bzw. Tubaspieler auch in Bill Barrett‘s Circle Of Willis oder Rich West’s Bedouin Hornbook engagierte Scot Ray Dobro und der oft mit Joe Baiza aktive und mit den Brassbands Brassum und Immediately bereits auf pfMentum vertretene Dan Clucas Kornett auf den 13 Etappen von Always Outnumbered (PFMCD053). Vier Vertreter der L.A.-Szene bündeln ihren Spielwitz für ein Vorwärts-in-die-Vergangenheit, für abstrakte, aber launige Neufassungen von R‘n‘B (Rumble‘n‘Bumble) der Jahre, in denen Schallplatten noch mit 78 rpm eierten. Das elegische ‚Fearless‘ verbeugt sich vor Mingus, wie dieser von Lester Young, und macht dazu eine Miene wie der pork-pie-behütete Buster Keaton. Insgesamt wird ein Zeitalter favorisiert, in dem Musik ganz selbstverständlich schräg und ungeleckt daher kam, verräuchert und promillegetränkt und damit im grössten Kontrast zum hygienischen und gesunden Kalifornien. Jazz ist hier alles andere als ‚Clean, Shaved and Sober‘, zumindest innerlich und klanglich. Speziell die quäkige, schnarrig gepresste oder auch rotzig schmetternde Trompete tut sich dabei hervor, während in der Dobro an sich schon Steinbeck- und On-the-road-Feeling resonieren. Liebig selbst knurrt dazu sonore, erdige Brauntöne. Von Retro und Kopie ist das meilenweit entfernt, die Kompositionen sind nie weniger als sophisticated und ungeniert postmodern, letztlich mehr an speziellen Sounds und der Freiheit des Als ob interessiert als an so faulem wie sturem Stilpurismus. Erst, Lonewolf‘ ist vom Ansatz her tatsächlich ein Blues, wenn auch mit exzentrischen Trompetengrowls.

    (Rigo Dittman, Bad Alchemy)

    [Steuart Liebig continues a path with the Tee-Tot Quartet that he already walked with The Mentones. Like there, Joe Berardi (all I need say is Non Credo) knocks and bangs rhythm to his vagabonding on the bass guitar. Also playing are Scot Ray on dobro – – Brian-Setzer-experienced, also engaged as trombone, respectively tuba player in Bill Barrett’s Circle of Willis or Rich West’s Bedouin Hornbook – – and Dan Clucas on cornet – – who often is active with Joe Baiza and has already been represented on pfMentum with the brass bands Brassum and Immediately. On the 13 tracks of Always Outnumbered (PFMCD053), four representatives of the L.A. scene bring together their playingeniousness for a go ahead-into-the-past for abstract, yet fun new interpretations of R’n’B (Rumble’n’Bumble) from those years, when records still bumbled on 78 rpms. The elegaic “Fearless” bows to Mingus, like he did for Lester Young, and makes a face like pork-pie sheltered Buster Keaton. All in all, an era is favored during which music sounded confidently off and unslick, smokey and liquor-drenched, and hence in greatest contrast to hygienic and healthy California. Jazz in this case is anything but “Clean, Shaved and Sober,” at least from the inside and from its sound. In this respect the squeaky squeezed or sometimes snotty belting trumpet stands out while in the dobro Steinbeck and On the Road feelings resonate. Liebig himself growls sonorously earthy brown tones along. Miles away from retro and copying, the compositions are never less than sophisticated and unashamedly postmodern, ultimately interested more in particular sounds and the freedom of “as if” rather than an stylistic purism that is as much foul as it is stubborn. Foremost, “Lonewolf” is in its conception really a blues, even with its eccentric trumpet growls.]
    (Better translation to follow)

    An interesting mix between blues, rock ‘n’ roll, bop, swing and free jazz, and you will find most of them integrated in all the tunes, which are dedicated to Mingus, Robert Johnson, Louis Armstrong, Muddy Waters and Skip James. Very aptly, the band’s lead instruments are dobro and trumpet, an interesting combination which works very well for the concept displayed here, which is straightforward fun without being cheap. The band consists of Steuart Liebig on fretless contrabassguitar, Joseph Berardi on drumset and percussion, Dan Clucas on cornet and Scot Ray on dobro, four excellent musicians, with the electric dobro especially opening new perspectives. This is highly rhythmic and enjoyable music, with once in a while a slower melancholy blues, bringing a mixture that is pretty unique and interesting. The down-side of such an approach is the emotional distance it creates, much in the same vein as much of Steven Bernstein’s music. It’s nice to hear, interesting, fun too, yet it’s not heartbreaking or very expressive music, despite the incredible effort made by Dan Clucas. His cornet playing is in some of the tracks absolutely fantastic.
    3.5 stars

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