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Steve Lehman: Dialect Fluorescent

Troy Collins By

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Currently a doctoral candidate in Music Composition at Columbia University, alto saxophonist Steve Lehman's previous releases for Pi Recordings include Travail, Transformation and Flow (2009), On Meaning (2007) and Demian as Post-Human (2005). On these cerebral endeavors, the former Fulbright scholar and Wesleyan graduate engaged his penchant for fusing vintage hard bop-style melodies with post-M-Base rhythmic structures—modernist affairs that deftly balanced nostalgic reverie with futuristic innovation.

Compared to the high-minded conceptualism of Lehman's previous albums (the most recent explored the melodic potential of computer-derived spectral harmony), Dialect Fluorescent seems downright conventional. Split evenly between classic covers and pithy originals, this stripped-down trio session features bold interpretations of beloved standards that are every bit as vibrant as the saxophonist's state-of-the-art compositions—further cementing Lehman's reputation as a forward-thinking traditionalist.

Bassist Matt Brewer and drummer Damion Reid's animated rapport infuses Lehman's complex writing and unique arrangements with an elastic but stalwart foundation, whether navigating the asymmetrical detours of the leader's Eastern-tinged "Allocentric" or the modulating rhythms of a fragmentary version of John Coltrane's "Moment's Notice." Conveying an overriding sense of aesthetic continuity to the date, the trio imbues swinging chestnuts like Duke Pearson's ebullient "Jeannine" and Jackie McLean's rousing "Mr. E" with palpable conviction, their subtle tempo displacements finding common ground with the shifting counter-rhythms of Lehman's labyrinthine pieces, like "Alloy" and "Foster Brothers."

As the leader and sole horn, Lehman's assured tone and dexterous articulation is showcased to excellent effect throughout the album. He unleashes blistering staccato cadences with driving urgency and convincing pathos, most notably on a stunning cover of the saccharine ballad, "Pure Imagination," culled from the film Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. Like Coltrane's revered reinterpretations of "Chim Chim Cheree" and "My Favorite Things," Lehman elevates the material, transforming a disposable novelty into a transcendent meditation; his intervallic variations and trenchant cries brim with rhapsodic lyricism, underscored by Brewer and Reid's bustling interplay. Conceptually audacious, Lehman's recasting of the song as an ecstatic free bop anthem is a stroke of genius and a telling appraisal of Lehman's gift for adaptation, an aspect that defines Dialect Fluorescent as a standout effort in his discography.

Track Listing: Allocentric (Intro); Allocentric; Moment's Notice; Foster Brothers; Jeannine; Alloy; Pure Imagination; Fumba Rebel; Mr. E.

Personnel: Steve Lehman: alto saxophone; Matt Brewer: bass; Damion Reid: drum set.

Title: Dialect Fluorescent | Year Released: 2012 | Record Label: Pi Recordings

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