It is easy think about the shock of the new that was bebop when listening to The People I Love by alto saxophonist Steve Lehman's trio. Not that Lehman plays bebop as it was in the 1940s. It took mammals millions of years of evolution to climb down out of trees and fashion tools, but it has taken but a few decades to progress from Lester Young to Charlie Parker, to Eric Dolphy to Rudresh Mahanthappa. Think Darwin's foot on the jazz accelerator.
Lehman's brand of music is a transmogrification (more evolution here) of the theories of Anthony Braxton and the passion of Jackie McLean, both of whom were Lehman's mentors. This release pairs Lehman's trio of bassist Matt Brewer and drummer Damion Reid (heard on Dialect Fluorescent (Pi Recordings, 2012) with the pianist Craig Taborn. Adding the piano allows Lehman to rework several of his compositions written for various quartets, quintets and his octet, plus an exploration of music from Kenny Kirkland, Jeff "Tain" Watts, Kurt Rosenwinkel and the the electronic duo Autechre. In the past Lehman has merged electronica and hip-hop with his foundations in avant-garde and modern creative jazz. The mergers never sound like watered down fusion. With Autechre's "qPlay," Lehman takes the composition's jagged motif as provocation to draw references to the shapeshifting effects of avant-garde jazz.
Taborn is a sympathetic collaborator here, comfortable with thinking outside the jazz-tradition box. The pianist's left hand adds a percussive pulse on "Ih Calam & Ynnus," which acts as ballast, while his right is the provocation for Lehman's alto exploration and Reid's drums. The recording balances equal parts of rip, tear and crunch with stark beauty, which can be heard on Kirkland's "Chance" and Lehman's reworking of "Curse Fraction" from his quintet recording On Meaning (Pi Recordings, 2007). Lehman and Taborn give us three short improvised duos/ Let's hope they are an appetizer for an upcoming all-duo date.
Prelude; Ih Calam & Ynnus; Curse Fraction; qPlay; Interlude; A Shifting Design; Beyond All Limits; Echoes/The
Impaler; Chance; Postlude.
Steve Lehman: alto saxophone; Craig Taborn: piano; Matt Brewer: acoustic bass; Damion Reid: drum set.