Thursday, June 25, 2009

Steve Lehman - Travail, Transformation and Flow (Pi Recordings, 2009)

Saxophonist Steve Lehman is at the forefront of exploratory jazz and on this recording he adds a new facet to his expedition to the musical cosmos, "spectral harmony," in which he uses computer aided analysis to examine the physics of the sound they are creating and improvises around the results. To his credit, the music doesn't sound cold and clinical, but rather has the angular excitement of a fresh direction. Accompanying him on this journey are Jonathan Finlayson on trumpet, Mark Shim on tenor sax, Tim Albright on trombone, Jose Davila on tuba, Chris Dingman on vibraphone; Drew Gress on bass and Tyshawn Sorey on drums. "Echoes" opens with a complex theme featuring ringing vibes and a tart alto break which keeps things upbeat, nervous and exciting. "Rudreshm" is a tribute to another very exciting alto saxophonist and composer, Rudresh Mahanthappa, and has slow and mysterious vibes (Dingman really seems to be the key to the spectral harmonics) before rising drums push the tempo and Lehman breaks out for a jaunty solo and trumpet and horns improvise over some bumpin' tuba and drums. "Alloy" is the centerpiece of the album, a fascinating performance that has Lehman soloing strategically, not dominating the music, but employing his pieces like a chess master, flowing a nice quicksilver stream of ideas with Sorey pushing him on. Shim's tenor keeps things hot before the full band reconvenes for a complex conclusion. With the ringing vibes and the tart and acidic alto saxophone soloing it occurred to me that this could be Lehman's Out to Lunch (Eric Dolphy's masterpiece from 1964.) Whether spectral harmony becomes a paradigm shifting evolution like modal or free jazz in the late 1950's remains to be seen, but it certainly works here, creating an exhausting yet exhilarating album of exciting music.
Travail, Transformation, and Flow -

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