On The People I Love
, alto saxophonist Steve Lehman
, Janus-like looks back, while simultaneously looking forward. He recruits celebrated pianist Craig Taborn
to bolster his longstanding trio of bassist Matt Brewer
and drummer Damion Reid
. It was once said that Taborn was fated to play better on other people's records than his own. Happily that is no longer the case, but his enduring commitment gives him MVP status in this team, and that's saying something. Lehman enlists his help not only in tackling a range of modern covers, but also in revisiting originals that he's recorded before.
It's a tight band, captured live in Astoria, NY in 2019, and they revel in the complexities of Lehman's fiery Math-jazz derived post-bop. With his tart tone and poise at pace, Lehman evokes a legacy of Charlie Parker
, Ornette Coleman
and Anthony Braxton
(the last, one of his teachers), but with a feel all his own. Lehman's natural inclination to cram in the notes often creates a striking juxtaposition with piano or bass at slower tempos, resulting in an ambiguous emotional feel.
That's the case on "Ih Calam & Ynnus," which begins with Taborn displaying his legendary dexterity as he holds down a different time in each hand. When bass and drums kick in at a faster clip, but not in synch, a palpable tension arises from the four distinct patterns, which isn't allayed by Lehman's urgent darting line. They pull the opposite trick on Autechre's electronica "qPlay," where Lehman's long tones linked by short phrases butt up against funky hiphop inflected beats.
Lehman maintains interest by varying both the instrumentation and the mood. Of three improvised duets between the reedman and Taborn, two bookend the disc, "Prelude" reflective and "Postlude" mercurial, while on "Interlude," which acts as a cooling balm in the middle of the program, Lehman microtonally veers around Taborn's stately pitches. The next cut ups the ante again. On a cover of Kurt Rosenwinkel
's "A Shifting Design," the sole track from a studio session eight months earlier, Reid's bristling boogaloo lays down the law for what becomes a classic free jazz trio confrontation, with the leader's nervous sinuousity cutting through the barrage when Brewer joins after the punchy theme.
They all combine on a warm rendition of Kenny Kirkland
's "Chance," where a ballad feel predominates, emphasized by Taborn's rhapsodic solo. But some of the best moments arrive when both principals cut loose, notably in "Beyond All Limits," where bassist Brewer shines in an unaccompanied intro. Thereafter Lehman floats, rushes and swoops over a vague Latin-tinge, before Taborn spins out heroic tales with his right hand with occasional jabs from the left, before launching daredevil flights when Lehman returns for another bite of the cherry.
On The People I Love
Lehman confirms himself as a relentless modernizer, even within traditional formats, and he could do worse than have Taborn lend two helping hands in future projects.