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Steve Lehman: Grooving Not Repeating

By Published: February 21, 2005

SL: I first heard Rudresh's music in 1999 at a festival in Verona. I was pretty blown away at the time, and more recently we had been checking out each other's music and kind of realizing how few young alto players their were that we could actually relate to. It's an exciting project because we have so much in common in terms of our musical tastes and interests, and yet we have very different approaches to the instrument, in part due to the fact that our musical backgrounds are quite different. Essentially we've been trying to find ways to use the legacy of the alto saxophones as a point of departure for creating innovative and compelling music.

AAJ: In terms of harmonic territory, are there particular sources that you would point interested people towards?

SL: Well, it's hard to pinpoint. Like a lot of people, I don't really think it terms of functional harmony at this point. At the same time, I often strive to create a harmonic framework that has real identity and is in constant evolution. Rhythm. Melody. Harmony. I don't think one can exist or be critically examined without the other two. Tristan Murail and Gerard Grisey and other Spectralists have explored some of the compositional implications of the fact that every individual sound event is in fact a harmonic spectrum unto itself; with the exception of sine waves etc. As far as musical sources that have had an effect on my thinking about harmony, the list would be too long, but to name a few: Andrew Hill, Anthony Braxton, Henry Threadgill, Tristan Murail, Squarepusher, Jackie McLean, Schoenberg, Eric Dolphy, Charlie Parker, Gyorgy Ligeti, Wayne Shorter, Bismillah Khan, Lamonte Young, John Coltrane, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Craig Taborn, Vijay Iyer... that should last me and everyone else about 200 years!

AAJ: What aspects of your own playing style would you point listeners to? How would you attempt describing your own playing style? For instance, while it's easy for a critic to draw comparisons to an Osby or a McLean or a Dolphy, how would you describe it without invoking the name of another saxophonist?

SL: Yes, it's true that it's often easiest to describe a personal instrumental voice in alluding to other instrumentalists. In my case, I am trying to develop an approach to the saxophone that is personal and unique in every way. Separate from that, my hope is to develop an approach to the saxophone that will continue to demonstrate both technical precision and innovation as well as conceptual advancements with regard to the instrument. I'll go ahead and break your rule now and point to Mark Shim, Aaron Stewart, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Mark Turner and Greg Osby as examples of saxophonists who, for me, demonstrate these qualities in their work as instrumentalists, albeit in a different way than I hope to cultivate these same qualities in my own playing.

AAJ: What aspects of your compositional style would you point listeners to? How would you attempt describing your own compositional style?

SL: Unfortunately that question was the subject of an extended Master's Thesis in 2002, so suffice to say that it's difficult to go into in any detail in the context of an interview, but I will say that, like my work as an instrumentalist, I'm constantly trying to define my music in a way that will demonstrate both technical and conceptual innovations as well as the potential for constant growth and evolution.

AAJ: Do you have other concepts for other, different solo projects?

SL: Well, yes I do of course, but at the same time, I still have a lot of music that hasn't been documented such as my chamber works and my orchestral music. And, again my hope is that my music will evolve as a result of its content and not most largely because of a change in personnel or musical context. The new Fieldwork CD will come out in 2005 which I'm very excited about. I will record an album under my own name for Pi Recordings as well, which I'm looking forward to as the people at Pi have been very supportive and allowed me to explore several areas of interest that other labels would not have been open to. More to come I hope...

AAJ: How do you feel about the effects of the Internet on the music scene?

SL:Well for those that have access to the internet, there is certainly an abundance of information that is newly available. I think you might need a social-scientist to more fully address the myriad implications of that question.

AAJ: Would you ever consider marketing recordings totally independently, via Internet?

SL: I'm flexible when it comes to medium. If those people interested in my music prefer to have it in CD format, I'll do my best to make it available. If MP3s overtake CDs, so be it.

AAJ: What music holds your most extreme interest these days, and what of it may influence your next project or recording? What's in your CD case at the moment?

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