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Steve Lehman: Grooving Not Repeating

By Published: February 21, 2005

AAJ: To my mind, Artificial Light was one of the exemplary releases of 2004 and might I say the debut release of the year, largely because of what could most simply be described as a groundbreaking use of live loops combined with rhythmic acumen. How did these elements come to be priorities in your compositional style?

SL: Thanks for your kind words on the CD Phil. In fact, Artificial Light isn't a debut for me, as I released two discs on the CIMP label in 2001 and 2002. However, it's the first time there's been any kind of significant promotional push behind one of my albums, so I think a lot of people perceived and reacted to Artificial Light and Interface as though they were debut albums.

In terms of the compositions on Artificial Light , I like your use of the word "loops" in that it seems to evoke musical traditions separate from so-called jazz. In the end I don't know that my music employs loops anymore than the standard repertoire or anyone else's music that uses repeated forms. But I think I understand what you're implying. Certainly the music of people and groups like Aceyalone, Anti-Pop Consortium, and Autechre has had an effect on my work.

AAJ: How then did you conceptualize bringing it to fruition compositionally?

SL: It's different for every piece on the record. And often times it wasn't something that I was actively pursuing as much as I have been lately with Fieldwork, for example. A lot of the music on Artificial Light has to do with the ways in which composing with a computer has affected the way that I conceive of music for an acoustic ensemble and my expectations in terms of the types of materials that a given musician will be able to get creative with.

AAJ: How then do you "teach" it to the musicians involved?. I 'm also assuming here you've got to do a minimum of teaching and rehearsal with guys like you've got in your band.

SL: The music requires a good deal of rehearsing, but a lot of it has to do with the incredible abilities of people like Drew Gress, and Eric McPherson and Chris Dingman and Tyshawn Sorey, who are able to internalize very precise and specific formal information in a way that affords each musician a great deal of agency when performing the music.

AAJ: Explain how you came to work with Chris Dingman , and the special relationship you have musically.

SL: I met Chris at Wesleyan. He's a couple years younger than I am and received his B.A. the same year I got my M.A. He had been taking lessons with me at Wesleyan, and was one of those students who digested huge amounts of information in very short periods. I think we started playing together in Connecticut a little bit. He came and sat in with one of my groups in NYC a couple times. I knew he would work hard on the music and that we were interested in a lot of the same areas, so it kind of took off from there.

AAJ: Plus you are listed as a member of his band and vice versa. How does his compositional thrust most differ from your own?

SL: Well, I would never claim to be an expert on Chris's music. But he writes a lot of incredible things for the vibes that I could never do. And he's just his own person, so all of that comes across in his music- like the fact that he played drums for many years and studied mridingam quite seriously- or that he's from San Jose. It's great music.

AAJ: Certainly, the arranging and performance on Artificial Light sounds so much like a band project it seems as though this was and should remain a group. On the other hand, with the caliber of musicians you're playing with, this can be deceptive to the listener. So generally, explain to us how or even whether, the musicians on Artificial Light will continue to move forward as a band.

SL: I hope it will. We certainly played that music a lot and rehearsed a lot before we went into the studio. I definitely hope to keep working with everyone who plays on the album. Lately Jonathan Finlayson has been playing with the group in place of Mark Shim, which has been fantastic. And Tyshawn Sorey has played drums on most of our recent concerts. But these things tend to be cyclical. I'm always thinking of Eric McPherson and Mark Shim and ways that we'll be able to work together in the future.

I also play a lot of the music from Artificial Light with a quartet I formed when I was living in Paris— Karl Jannuska , Michael Felberbaum , and Stephane Kerecki. Incredible musicians, all capable of really transforming the music. Usually when I perform the music in Europe it's with this ensemble, though I hope to tour with Drew and Chris and Tyshawn and all of those guys very soon.

AAJ: Please hip the audience to a bit of the Camouflage Trio's shared history.

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