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Steve Lehman: Travail, Transformation, and Flow

Mark F. Turner By

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Alto saxophonist Steve Lehman is well known for conceptual and cutting edge works including Manifold (Clean Feed Records, 2007) and On Meaning (Pi Recordings, 2008), as well as his involvement in seminal groups like the cooperative Fieldwork with pianist Vijay Iyer and drummer Tyshawn Sorey. With past recordings consisting of smaller ensembles, the bandleader/composer literally multiplies his ideas on this release via a highly charged octet, fitted with rhythm section, dual saxophones, trombone, trumpet, tuba and vibraphone.

With a fierce group of like-minded individualists, the octet communicates Lehman's fascinating explorations in spectral harmony music concepts introduced by French composers Gerard Grisey and Tristan Murail. Based on the physics of sound and composition, this is some heady stuff, but for Lehman, Travail, Transformation, and Flow is an extension of previous works (now articulated in a larger ensemble) that continue to prove him as one of today's more progressive musical thinkers.

That proof is in tracks such as "Echoes" and "Rudreshm," where each instrument forms an intricate part of an elaborate groove metronome—precise, delicate, and microtonal—working together in calculated harmony. The inner workings are not only compositional, but are also ingrained with the timbre and interconnection of each musician's voice. The bass and tuba's lower frequencies, tonal variances in alto and tenor sax, twisting brass arrangements, measured vibraphone chords, and drum salvos; each balancing control and improvisation.

Horns swell and shrink against the measured tide of "As Things Change," giving way to Jose Davila's rambunctious tuba and an interesting coda. "Dub"'s pulsed drum and bass theme allows Drew Gress' bass to carve out a knotty path while Sorey becomes the perfect drum machine. He obliterates his kit on many tracks, including the eerie silhouettes in "Waves," with artful cymbal and tom splashes.

The centerpiece is "Alloy," which first appeared on Lehman's Artificial Light (Fresh Sound New Talent, 2004). It swings in an odd time signature, warmed by Tim Albright's smooth trombone, then sports a radical multi-horn vamp, iced vibes from Chris Dingman, heated solos from Lehman, Mark Shim (who has one of the best tenor tones on earth), and Finlayson, then concludes with an isolated alto/trumpet dialog.

The release concludes in enigmatic fashion with "No Neighborhood Rough Enough," in what seems like simultaneous overlaying rhythm patterns and the spectral jazz remix of "Living In The World Today" by hip hop artist GZA of the Wu Tang Clan. It's just a glimpse into the complexities of Lehman's mindset. At just over forty minutes, the recording is short by today's super-sized standards, but contains more ideas than many twice its length. Here's hoping Lehman revisits his octal ideas in the near future.

Track Listing: Echoes; Rudreshm; As Things Change (I Remain the Same); Dubs; Alloy; Waves; No Neighborhood Rough Enough; Living In The World Today.

Personnel: Tim Albright: trombone; Jose Davila: tuba; Chris Dingman: vibraphone; Jonathan Finlayson: trumpet; Drew Gress: bass; Steve Lehman: alto saxophone; Mark Shim: tenor saxophone; Tyshawn Sorey: drums.

Title: Travail, Transformation, and Flow | Year Released: 2009 | Record Label: Pi Recordings

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