Steve Lehman Octet | Travail, Transformation, and Flow

Pi (2009)
By JON GARELICK  |  June 9, 2009
3.0 3.0 Stars

Young alto saxophonist/composer Lehman has been earning props both for his playing and his use of "spectral harmony" in his writing — where "attack, decay, and timbre provide the source material for orchestration and musical form."

What this means for the rest of us is jittery, angular lines and fast, clattery drum 'n bass-style snare, cymbals, and rims set against the spare outline of the form by vibes and bass moving in slow four-to-the-bar chords. Granted, that's a generalization that doesn't take into account Lehman's own alto playing (tart and sharp, like Jackie McLean by way of Oliver Lake and Steve Coleman) or the highly organized exits and entrances by his eight voices (including tuba), or his fetching subgroupings of instruments.

Just when the sameness of those anti-melodic lines — and the absence of standard jazz swing or Afro-Latin grooves — begins to get to you, tenor sax Mark Shim will take off in a fiery run of eighth notes and you'll say to yourself, "Oh yeah, bebop." In this context, the Jose Davila trombone solo that opens "Alloy" qualifies as a jazz-ballad aria. Here and on tunes like "Dub" or the cover of Wu-Tang's "Living in the World Today," there's some relief from Lehman's rigorous procedures. And, when a passage of intricate written lines and improv come together in a unison cadence, Lehman elicits the familiar response to his jazz-as-magic-act: "How did they do that?"
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  Topics: CD Reviews , Wu-Tang Clan, Steve Coleman, Jackie McLean,  More more >
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