Conventional wisdom dictates that playing jazz comes at least as much from life experience as it does the conservatory, a tenet so associated with jazz that misguided young players in the '50s began taking heroin to simulate Charlie Parker's experience. The drugs-give-you-soul days have more or less passed, but the mystery of what connects heart to horn is no closer to being resolved then it was in Bird's day.
Steve Lehman might be the exception that proves the rule that only years can give you what technique won't cover. At 25, he has no business being the player and the bandleader that he is. He studied with Anthony Braxton and Jackie McLean and his associations range from Oliver Lake to Me'Shell NdegéOcello, with a close working relationship with pianist Vijay Iyer, so perhaps a breadth of experience can help where longevity is lacking. Either way, his quintet album ArtificialLight is a remarkably thoughtful and engaging record, closer perhaps to the McLean tutelage than the Braxton. The compositions are intelligent without losing heart to head, extended without wandering off course. With the paired saxophones of Lehman and Mark Shim and Chris Dingman's vibes, the melodies are assured and out front, while bassist Drew Gress and drummer Eric McPherson keep a steady back line.
Where compositions lead the quintet disc, Lehman's new Camouflage Trio recording, Interface , gives him more room to playnot just for being a smaller outfit, but when you're sharing space with bassist Mark Dresser and drummer Pheeroan akLaff there's little choice. The seven pieces aren't as tightly composed as the quintet material, and Lehman gets to bare his chops on both alto and soprano. Together, the two discs suggest a frightening maturitybut then Charlie Parker only lived to be 34.
Tracks: 1. Fumba Rebel (5:47); 2. Alloy (8:26); 3. Estelle Teams (4:58); 4. Freestyle (7:52); 5. Post-Modern Pharoahs (6:45); 6. Cloak and Dagger (7:24); 7. Digital Ambush (6:25).
Personnel: Steve Lehman: Alto Saxophone; Mark Shim: Tenor Saxophone; Chris Dingman: Vibraphone; Drew Gress: Bass; Eric McPherson: Drums.
Tracks: 1. Structural Fire (15:27); 2. Hamlet (5:14); 3. Complex C (7:08); 4. Huis Clos (4:02); 5. Rison (8:02); 6. Motion (19:28); 7. Interface (12:59).
Personnel: Pheeroan akLaff: Drums; Mark Dresser: Bass; Steve Lehman: Alto and Sopranino Sax.