Album Remarks & Appraisals:
"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." -AllAboutJazz
Down Beat (p.68) - 4.5 stars out of 5 -- "Lehman's scores are teeming with layers of obstinate long tones and angular phrases that are constantly being pulled by an undertow of shifting tonal centers and sharp-elbowed polyrhythms."
JazzTimes (p.64) - "Steve Lehman's latest project begins with tenor, alto, trumpet, trombone, vibes and tuba repeatedly forming clustered chords."
JazzTimes (p.35) - Ranked #11 in JazzTimes' "Top 50 CDs of 2009" -- "Lehman wrote his new album by utilizing spectral harmony..."
Signal To Noise (magazine) (p.56) - "Lehman's pieces make the most of the expansive sound palette, creating rich harmonies and contrapuntal lines while leaving plenty of room for improvisation, and the octet responds viscerally..."
Steve Lehman: Steve Lehman (alto saxophone); Mark Shim (tenor saxophone); Jonathan Finlayson (trumpet); Tim Albright (trombone); Jose Davila (tuba); Chris Dingman (vibraphone); Drew Gress (bass instrument); Tyshawn Sorey (drums).
Audio Mixer: Liberty Ellman.
Recording information: Systems Two Studios, Brooklyn, NY (12/22/2008).
Steve Lehman's reputation as one of the rising stars in modern creative jazz is well founded and realized in this potent CD of original music played with his handpicked octet. It's a democratic ensemble that occasionally allows for single-minded excursions or outbursts within a framework of music that mixes improvisation with certain specific cues and motifs. The music certainly owns a mercurial foundation where each member listens and plays accordingly, but there's a strong curiosity and identity that Lehman establishes, based on the influence of his heroes and peers (Anthony Braxton, Andrew Hill, George Lewis, Mark Dresser, Vijay Iyer, Liberty Ellman, among others) within the current progressive community. Allegiance to the sound of fellow alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa is readily admitted and clearly heard, but there's much more to this rather unique, thoroughly modern music. A front line of trombonist Tim Albright, tenor saxophonist Mark Shim, tuba player Jose Davila, and trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson act independently for the most part, as unison playing is relatively dismissed. With an elusive style similar to rare true love or even passive/aggressive acquaintance, Lehman avoids a solid center or core value in preference to the enigmatic, making the title of the recording more understandable and relevant. At times quirky but not exclusively so, "Echoes" evokes its title in fractured and funky resonance accented by the choppy drumming of Tyshawn Sorey and single vibraphone notes from Chris Dingman, as Lehman waits patiently for the piece to develop before bursting out. "Rudreshm" parallels the kinetic, frantic, snake-like, and dense style of Mahanthappa as utter determination from the other squirrelly horns ratchets the intensity up and up. Staggering funk rhythms dominate, then stall, and revive inexorably during "As Things Change," while a harder odd meter beat from bassist Drew Gress drives "Dub." The contrast of the dense, brawny backdrop during "No Neighborhood Rough Enough" rubs against Lehman's spatial alto, while a lighter "Living in the World Today" sports a hesitant one-beat idea from Sorey that belies the ideas loaded with layered counterpoint, very free within a structural framework. For the most part, this music is astonishing, far beyond convention, but not as totally free to turn off any uninformed listeners. If you listen more than once -- and you should try -- the brainy music of Lehman constantly reveals layer after layer of fresh and inventive progressive sounds that should turn any sensibilities about face. This CD comes highly recommended, especially as a prime example of new, innovative music. ~ Michael G. Nastos
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