Steve Lehman

Travail, Transformation and Flow

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Steve Lehman's reputation as one of the rising stars in modern creative jazz is well founded and realized in this potent CD of original music played with his handpicked octet. It's a democratic ensemble that occasionally allows for single-minded excursions or outbursts within a framework of music that mixes improvisation with certain specific cues and motifs. The music certainly owns a mercurial foundation where each member listens and plays accordingly, but there's a strong curiosity and identity that Lehman establishes, based on the influence of his heroes and peers (Anthony Braxton, Andrew Hill, George Lewis, Mark Dresser, Vijay Iyer, Liberty Ellman, among others) within the current progressive community. Allegiance to the sound of fellow alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa is readily admitted and clearly heard, but there's much more to this rather unique, thoroughly modern music. A front line of trombonist Tim Albright, tenor saxophonist Mark Shim, tuba player Jose Davila, and trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson act independently for the most part, as unison playing is relatively dismissed. With an elusive style similar to rare true love or even passive/aggressive acquaintance, Lehman avoids a solid center or core value in preference to the enigmatic, making the title of the recording more understandable and relevant. At times quirky but not exclusively so, "Echoes" evokes its title in fractured and funky resonance accented by the choppy drumming of Tyshawn Sorey and single vibraphone notes from Chris Dingman, as Lehman waits patiently for the piece to develop before bursting out. "Rudreshm" parallels the kinetic, frantic, snake-like, and dense style of Mahanthappa as utter determination from the other squirrelly horns ratchets the intensity up and up. Staggering funk rhythms dominate, then stall, and revive inexorably during "As Things Change," while a harder odd meter beat from bassist Drew Gress drives "Dub." The contrast of the dense, brawny backdrop during "No Neighborhood Rough Enough" rubs against Lehman's spatial alto, while a lighter "Living in the World Today" sports a hesitant one-beat idea from Sorey that belies the ideas loaded with layered counterpoint, very free within a structural framework. For the most part, this music is astonishing, far beyond convention, but not as totally free to turn off any uninformed listeners. If you listen more than once -- and you should try -- the brainy music of Lehman constantly reveals layer after layer of fresh and inventive progressive sounds that should turn any sensibilities about face. This CD comes highly recommended, especially as a prime example of new, innovative music.

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