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Steve Lehman: Ex Machina

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Steve Lehman: Ex Machina
When native New Yorker Steve Lehman releases an album, the odds are it will turn up at the top of year-end polls. If the composer & saxophonist has a formula for success, a listener would be unlikely to discern a methodology across his previous sixteen leader releases. What sets Lehman apart is a hunger for knowledge and risk. With advanced degrees which culminated in a doctorate from Columbia University, he is a researcher, scholar, and Professor of Music at The California Institute of the Arts. No two recordings under his direction sound alike, and yet his work has an unmistakable bearing. Continuing his decades-long association with Pi Recordings, Lehman has assembled an unusual trio and the fifteen-member Orchestre National de Jazz (OJN) for Ex Machina.

Lehman embraces experimentation in his music but seems to prefer familiarity in choosing his working colleagues. Trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson and vibraphonist Chris Dingman have each worked with Lehman for the better part of twenty years. OJN director Frédéric Maurin and Lehman shared the composing on the album but there is an outlier here. Dicy2, is state-of-the-art AI software by the Institute for Research and Coordination in Acoustics/Music. Its use on Ex Machina goes beyond supplementing the ensemble's performance. Lehman and Maurin explain in their liner notes, "Dicy2 was also used as a pre-compositional tool, and integrated directly into our overarching concepts of orchestration, rhythm, and form."

"39" opens the set in the tradition of the jazz ensemble but the piece quickly evolves into a complex clatter of melody and noise, a tranquil soundscape, and an abrasive din. "Los Angeles Imaginary" is a frenetic kaleidoscope of swirling horns and polyrhythms. Both pieces are typical of the early energy on Ex Machina but the overall tenor of the album changes with "Ode To akLaff." Lehman and Maurin have crafted intricate musical pieces which engage multiple senses. Much of Ex Machina suggests spectral music, concentrating on acoustic properties rather than dialectal characteristics. In the ethereal waves of sound, the saxophone, vibes, Bruno Ruder's piano, and the drumming of Rafaël Koerner breakthrough in exhilarating solos.

"Speed-Freeze, Pt 1" is generally unhurried, loping along for the better part of ten minutes before segueing into "Pt 2." The same theme here feels like it has been mobilized for attack, piercing and agitated, regularly pulled back to the slightly more conventional, but repeatedly breaking away. Maurin's "Le Seuil, Pt. 1" and "Pt. 2" are brilliant blends of classical, free improvisation, and jazz. The two combined evoke the Savoy Ballroom and a Sun Ra futuristic soundscape.

The presence of AI on Ex Machina may be an elephant in the room for some but it need not be a factor in listening. Seamlessly incorporated with acoustic and electronic instrumentation, the elements blend together as was the intention of Lehman and Maurin. The album is a baffling and beautiful juggling act; a worthy addition to Lehman's portfolio.

Track Listing

39: Los Angeles Imaginary; Camera; Alchimie; Ode To Aklaff; Jeux D'Anches; Les Treize Soleils; Speed--Freeze (Part 1); Speed--Freeze (Part 2); Le Seuil (Part 1); Le Seuil (Part 2).

Personnel

Steve Lehman
saxophone, alto
Chris Dingman
vibraphone
Additional Instrumentation

Steve Lehman; electronics; Frédéric Maurin - direction, electronics ; Fanny Ménégoz: flute, alto flute, piccolo; Catherine Delaunay: clarinet, basset horn; Julien Soro - tenor saxophone, clarinet; Fabien Debellefontaine: baritone saxophone, clarinet, flute; Fabien Norbert: trumpet, flugelhorn; Daniel Zimmermann: trombone; Christiane Bopp: trombone; Fanny Meteier: tuba; Bruno Ruder : piano, synthesizer; Stéphan Caracci: vibraphone, marimba, glockenspiel, percussion, synthesizer; Rafaël Koerner: drums; Sarah Murcia: double bass; Jérôme Nika: generative electronics creation & artistic collaboration; Dionysios Papanikolaou: IRCAM electronics.

Album information

Title: Ex Machina | Year Released: 2024 | Record Label: Pi Recodings


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