Book Review – Dave Liebman’s The Art of Skill


I love Dave Liebman, his work, his philosophy, his artistry and his dedication to craft. As a devoted musical improviser, when I learned of his book, The Art of Skill – Establishing the Mindset For Unleashing the Music Inside You, I was super eager to get into Lieb’s brain and see what insights this master could offer. Instead, after thousands of purchases across more than two decades of using Amazon, I was moved to write my first product review.  Here tis:

I don’t think that I’ve ever written a review for anything in thousands of Amazon purchases, but I definitely feel obliged to issue a ‘buyer beware’ warning for this unfortunate collection of pages attributed to Dave Liebman, as author. I say attributed because there are references in the text stating that this was a project of a Michael Lake, who I can’t seem to find anything biographics or CV on – He is credited thusly, on the cover: “Edited and Designed by Michael Lake”. No other credentials are included. 

When I first heard about this book from Lieb, I went to Amazon and reluctantly swallowed the thirty bucks thinking that this might be a real chance to get an insight in Lieb’s perspectives; that was partially true. However, when I first received this in the mail I was taken aback by the paltry, print-on-demand collection of perfect bound pages that arrived. To call it a book, m’mmm… not quite, only if, say a pharmaceutical insert stuffed in The Times is considered a book or more aptly, a Scholastic Reader, which is what this 50ish pages of wide margins, poorly written and even more poorly proofread text alongside a mish-mash of motivational stock imagery with a few pics of Lieb and friends through the years thrown in for good measure seems to be. A book? That’s a tough proposition by any measure. 

I didn’t pick this up for about six months, but when I finally picked up this collection of pages, it was, well, not great. A series of shoddily edited interviews (maybe?). I know now that LIeb almost became an orthopedic surgeon and a lawyer, but that didn’t bear repeating four times in, sort of, tangential asides to other things Lieb was talking about. And that’s the thing here, there’s no editorial throughline and no narrative to speak of. I surely didn’t get any insight into ‘the art of skill’ or really an insight into anything except Lieb’s other potential career directions! Without a doubt, you’d get more, better articulated (and edited) insight if you were to just read the first ten articles in a Google search for “Dave Liebman”. Certainly, this collection was not, is not, worth thirty bucks. And that’s the thing that’s outrageous here: Dave Liebman is known for quality and lifelong dedication to craft; this poorly written, poorly edited, poorly assembled, poorly laid out, cheaply printed and extremely overpriced collection is far beneath Dave Liebman. If anybody ever reads this, I’d say a fair price point for this is about $10 and with the printing costs you should still be making $9.

If it were some rando jazz guy, I’d give ’em a pass, but with lieb, man, I just can’t do that. He’s a teacher, master, musician and founder of the International Association of Schools of Jazz. Was there really nobody in his orbit that he could have shared this with to get an opinion on the writing, the editing, the layout, the presentation, etc. As someone who worked in publishing, I’d wager that a second set of eyes were never laid on this collection. Perhaps, the price tag can be attributed to the astronomical price of college textbooks and somebody was hoping to get this on some syllabi? I really don’t know, but this is an unfortunate and overpriced collection of pages that’s not worthy of having Dave Liebman’s name on it or associated with his amazing legacy of excellence. 

As disappointed as I am with this work, I’m being generous with the three star rating. I think there are some, just Ok, insights within these pages, but it never scratches the surface of the promise of the title:  The Art of Skill – Establishing the Mindset for Unleashing the Music Inside You, this collection of pages and random images, definitely ain’t that! 

Anyway, my work is done. I’m disappointed, but hopefully, other folks can avoid the same disappointment and maybe even the editors/authors will take another look at things in the second printing. Lieb’s an amazing and awe-inspiring artist, a true craftsman, don’t let this dissuade you from his work.


Ambient Guitar is Dead. Long Live Ambient Guitar!!

I had no idea what I was doing. I had no idea what I was trying to achieve. It was one of a hundred experiments at the time and one of hundreds of thousands since. It was 1998; 25 years ago. Then, like now, I had an economy of musical gear. At that time, I hadn’t even moved to recording music with a computer yet, so armed with my old Fender Gemini acoustic guitar, a Woody Seymour Duncan pickup and a brand new Alesis Nanoverb I plugged it all into my Tascam four track recorder and began to experiment with a variety of noisy and hissy experiments. 

At some point, after a couple hours of fruitless experimentation, I set it to plate reverb and turned the effect and the mix all the way up. In seconds, I found what I was looking for.

What was I looking for? Hell if I knew, but I could try to explain it in my vocabulary of the time. I wanted to be able make music like Claude Debussy’s solo piano work, utilizing an almost chromatic dream-lime lack of a tonal center that’s just awash, ebbing and flowing, without an attack; like a piano key struck with the sustain pedal down all the way and the stroke of the key removed, or imagining the strings rising and falling as in Ralph Vaughan Williams Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis. The guitar, acoustic, especially, is/was effectively a percussion instrument. What I was imagining simply wasn’t a thing; physics precluded it…  at least I thought so until this experiment.

For me, musically and artistically, this was a defining moment. My creative life is divided between before and after this discovery. I called it space guitar, then ambient guitar, but really it was a drone style of playing; a pedal note sustained while other harmonic goodies occur all from the sound hole of my acoustic guitar and into the spaciousness of the reverb. Anything was now possible. A couple years later live looping via Ableton and reliable looping pedals made whole soundworlds possible with just a guitar, imagination and a couple doodads. I went in this new direction hard. I explored sound with many guitars, effects, players, ensembles and pretty much any scenario I could imagine. 25 years later, dozens of recordings and hundreds of gigs all over the continental US came to be and I explored anything and everything that caught my fancy. 

In the last few years things have dissipated for me creatively where the guitar is concerned. At a time when there are hundreds, maybe thousands of ambient guitarists with music on Spotify and videos on YouTube there’s a lot of droney, textural and ambient music out there. To be fair, a lot of this stuff sounds the same and “ambient guitar” has gone the way of a million vaporous piano recordings that may or may not be informed by the work of Harold Budd. I have ambient drone music on nearly 24/7, in my various spaces and while I couldn’t name most of the artists I hear from the derivative lack of variance and the ephemeral nature of new music showing up, I’m glad that new voices are putting new spins on guitar and reverb. The more music that comes out, the more likely that future greats will be revealed.

For me, though, it’s becoming harder to put original, thoughtful sound into the perpetual motion machine of streaming and social media. I don’t want to release garbage just to keep momentum, to keep something out there feeding the machine. 

With all of this said in what is possibly the longest preface ever, I’m afraid I’ve reached the end of my period of exploring the ambient guitar. I’ve made this pronouncement before and like all pronouncements, no sooner do I make one and inspiration strikes. Honestly, I hope that happens. It’s really hard to look at my guitars and feel nothing but frustration at the lack of ideas for new work; the same objects that I’ve looked at for decades, played all day/night and could barely bring myself to sleep out of an anticipation of what new sounds might come the following morning. To be fair, I’ve been extremely lucky and prolific; I count those blessings. I’m reminded of an interview where Doc Watson talked about getting his first guitar and his father told him “…so that life might be a little better with it.” My life has been better having picked up the guitar and better still when I connected it to an old Alesia Nanoverb all those many years ago.

There are so many situations and aspects of sound that I want to explore and I will, just sans the guitar. The guitar is the instrument I’m most proficient on so it will be my primary instrument in any band or ensemble situations, maybe even some ambient artists will reach out with ideas and ask me to contribute (something that rarely happens) but as for ambient guitar, by myself, that will only show up on droney periods in the various ensembles I play with when I kick on one of the several reverb pedals I have on my effects board.

Ambient guitar has been really good to me.Ambient guitar is dead! Long live ambient guitar!!! 

Please enjoy my final ambient guitar longform work: Castles, originally titled “Castles Made of Sand”, an allusion to the beautiful Jimi Hendrix song of the same name that aptly reflected my feelings as I created this final work.

“And so castles made of sand
“Melts into the sea eventually”
– Jimi Hendrix

Matt Borghi – Ambient Guitar – NEW RELEASE


Ambient Guitar is Matt Borghi’s first solo recording capturing the style of performance that he’s usually only done with saxophonist, Michael Teager, as part of their Borghi | Teager duo. With Ambient Guitar, Matt Borghi’s influences are on full display, from a resonant acknowledgement of Brian Eno, in the manner of production and texture to melodic elements that fuse in Harold Budd, Robert Fripp and the late Jerry Garcia that’s particularly reminiscent of his work on the Zabriskie Point soundtrack.

Matt Borghi’s Ambient Guitar is a texturally rich, unassuming and restrained recording that highlights Matt Borghi at his musical best.

Ambient Guitar is available in a variety of formats at the links below, including:

Improvised Ambient Guitar Soundscapes with Ableton Live Channel on YouTube

I’ll dispense with the ‘I haven’t written anything here in a while’ preface and get right to the meat of it. Michael Teager and myself are preparing to go into the studio and work on our next Borghi-Teager studio album. This time I don’t have much in the way of ideas and I’ve been spending my time practicing improvising.

Key to my improvisational work is Ableton Live, and after some reviews of Shades of Bending Light dismissed the idea that it was, in fact, wholly improvised, I’ve decided to document, via screencasts, my practice and rehearsal sessions for our next studio album, blemishes, wrong notes, warts and all, so that folks can go behind the curtain and get a conceptual understanding of the craft of our brand of improvised ambient soundscapes.

Additionally, much of the music is pretty good. I’ve surprised myself at times, which is the best part about improvisation… there are about five videos up at the time of this writing, and the music is really quite good. Sometimes, it stalls, and that would be edited out of any recording session in the post-production cull, but here there’s no post-production, I record live, render/upload it out of Camtasia and call it a wrap. So that’s it. That’s what I’m doing.

Also, maybe, some folks might be interested to see what I’m doing in Ableton Live. I haven’t used another piece of software for music since 2002. It’s all I use. All of my effects are standard, out of the Ableton box, and I find that it does everything and more that I can dream of, including things I never thought that I wanted it to do. For a while, many folks believed that Ableton Live was really just for electronic and EDM, but there are many contemporary composers out there proving that wrong and I hope that my vids do just that.

Anyway, thanks and enjoy!