The brashness of youth has usually yielded bountiful harvest in the fields of modern jazz. Consider the crackling work of a fresh-faced Lee Morgan in Dizzy Gillespie’s touring band of the early Fifties, or the brazen sounds of a cherub-cheeked Jackie McLean in Miles Davis’ outfit of the same time period. The list is virtually endless and continues to lengthen year after year. Add to this roster Steve Lehman, a protégé of Anthony Braxton who at the tender age of twenty-three has already sidled out from the sizeable shadow of his much-lauded mentor. Lehman’s work on Braxton’s Nine Compositions (Hill), released earlier this year, was instrumental to the project’s success and the folks at CIMP were quick to capitalize on the talent in their midst by organizing a follow-up date to debut him as a leader.
Fellow Braxton associates (and holdovers from the above mentioned Hill date) Kevin O’Neil and Kevin Norton join John Herbert and the estimable Roy Campbell, Jr. in rounding out Lehman’s inaugural recording ensemble. All compositions save “Action,” which is borrowed from the late Sixties McLean songbook, are Lehman’s own creations and together they represent the range of his stylistic interests. “Panther” playfully stalks a free-bop jungle of verdant harmonic vegetation as Lehman and then Campbell beat individual paths via highly energized solos. O’Neil’s fluidly picked arpeggios pepper Norton’s wave-like drum crests during the piece’s latter half prior to Lehman’s reentry skating through his horn’s upper register. “Orbits” revolves around undiluted improvisation as cleanly calibrated momentum is routinely subsumed under discursive collective commentary by the players en mass and in specific combinations. “Lasers” subtracts guitar, bass and brass from the band leaving the leader and Norton to converse in oblique tongues through the translating vehicles of blown reed, and sticks taken to tautly stretched drum skin. On “Le Roi,” presumably penned in homage to poet laureate Amiri Baraka, the band diverts to ballad guise spreading an inexorable swathe of tone colors that swirl around the piece’s melodic nucleus. Norton trades up sticks for felt-tipped mallets and Lehman hoists his flute further expanding on the textural flavor of the ensemble sound. Campbell’s muted phrases braid with the bowed figures of Herbert and O’Neil’s carefully placed counterpoint.
Producer Bob Rusch’s liners intimate that a companion disc to this debut, culled from the same session, is forthcoming in the CIMP release hopper. The harbinging evidence that Lehman’s substantial talents could not be contained to a single silver sound receptacle suggests that the saxophonist is just getting started on what is certain to be artistically prosperous career in creative music. Following in the footsteps of predecessors who made their mark early, exciting things are still to come from Lehman’s fertile mind and horns.
Track Listing: Panther (Dedicated to Thomas Fujiwara)/ Orbits/ Action/ Lasers/ Le Roi/ Structural Fire.
Personnel: Steve Lehman- alto & sopranino saxophones, flute; Roy Campbell, Jr.- trumpet, pocket trumpet, flugelhorn; Kevin O’Neil- electric guitar; John Herbert- acoustic bass; Kevin Norton- percussion, vibraphone. Recorded: May 14 & 15, 2001, Rossie, NY.