Steve Lehman Trio with Craig Taborn - The People I Love

Label: Pi Recordings, 2019

Personnel - Steve Lehman: alto saxophone; Craig Taborn: piano; Matt Brewer: bass; Damion Reid: drum set.

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Alto saxophonist and composer Steve Lehman is considered one of the most authoritative figures and highest exponents of modern jazz. However, not willing to settle down in that designation, he keeps ceaselessly looking for new ways to expand creativity. For his latest recording, he has invited the tremendous pianist Craig Taborn to join his remarkable rhythm section composed of bassist Matt Brewer and drummer Damion Reid. Allowing you to experience more resplendence than darkness, The People I Love also serves to celebrate the 10-year existence of the original trio.

The jarring melodies and polyrhythmic feel of “Prelude”, a shortly improvised sax-piano duet, lead us to the febrile drama of “Ih Calam And Ynnus”, a sensory catharsis where Lehman’s cutting-edge language stridently hits the propulsive navigation of piano, bass, and drums. Besides guaranteeing a quirky chordal thrust, Taborn shows off unhesitant reflexes at the time he starts improvising. Right after his massive flights, the forward-thinking pianist dispenses clever accompaniment for Brewer, who, after deliberating with confidence, unites his voice to the saxophonist’s.

The disconcerting additive meter of “Curse Fraction”, a tune first recorded in 2007, may be disorienting for the listener, but the soloists - Lehman and Taborn - bring their A-games while feeling completely at home, curiously opting for distinct modes of expression in order to describe similar viewpoints. In this case, the solicitous posture and counterintuitive volubility of the saxophonist deviates from the gallant mannerisms of the pianist.

If Dialect Fluorescent, the trio's first studio album released six years ago, included fresh readings of interesting tunes coming from a variety of sources - from Coltrane to Jackie McLean to Duke Pearson, then The People I Love follows the same concept, collecting a broader variety of genres and moods. The offerings include Autechre’s “qPlay”, which preserves the dark/light intermittence as well as the breakbeat-infused vibes; Kurt Rosenwinkel’s “A Shifting Design”, a strenuous, piano-less exercise retrieved unedited from a rehearsal tape in which Lehman shouts parables over Reid’s responsive, hip-hop-flavored drum flow; Jeff Tain Watts’s “The Impaler”, which is coupled with Lehman’s “Echoes” (taken from the octet album Travail Transformation and Flow) and loaded with a fresh nu-bop energy; and the accessible “Chance”, a 3/4 piece by pianist Kenny Kirkland, whose startling beauty is the product of the combination of melodious sax contours, shimmering brushwork, and just the right number of rooted bass notes not to lose the desired ambiguity.

Beyond All Limits” is another Lehman composition included in a former octet album (Mise En Abime) and subjected to a sensational arrangement for the current format. Brewer cooks up a lovely preface before putting in motion an Afro-centric dance that later modulates in a breezier rhythmic flux. Already with the impeccable harmonic work from the pianist coloring the scene, Lehman exhibits some of the qualities that define him as a peerless improviser. Discoursing with fire, he resolves his phrases with caustic notes, leaving a sensation of both excitement and suspension in the air. Taborn’s phenomenal sweeps and punctual flurries are strictly cooperative in bringing the quartet to its best. Laughs are heard at the end.

This keen-witted jazz professed with ferocity and abandon is something you can’t afford to miss.

Grade  A

Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Ih Calam And Ynnus ► 03 - Curse Fraction ► 07 - Beyond All Limits


Donny McCaslin - Beyond Now

Donny McCaslin: tenor saxophone; Jason Lindner: keyboards; Tim Lefebvre: electric bass; Mark Guiliana: drums; David Binney: synth; Nate Wood: guitar; Jeff Taylor: vocals.

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Widely acclaimed saxophonist Donny McCaslin returns with a personalized project of his authorship after participating in David Bowie’s Blackstar.
McCaslin reunites his Fast Future quartet, whose members - Jason Lindner on keyboards, Tim Lefebvre on electric bass, and Mark Guiliana on drums - were also crucial in the English pop star's lattermost album, and adds a few influential guest musicians to play on selected songs.
The nine tracks of Beyond Now intelligently combine a variety of variables that catapult McCaslin to the vanguard of the modern jazz. 

The opening tune, “Shake Loose” pulses with hypnotic rhythmic chops and feels simultaneously urban and futuristic. With strong influences of pop-rock, jazz, and electronic music, the quartet proliferates a penetrating tension that remains elevated until its release through expansive harmonic progressions and the attractive melody of the chorus. 
A comparable approach is used in the melodious and patiently-driven “Bright Abyss”, another fantastic original that quickly connects to our senses through a sober, alert, and provocative instrumentation. The emotional grandeur brought into its final section, which is magnified by voices, has become McCaslin’s signature over the years. 

Having worked with David Bowie must have been a great honor for these musicians. Grateful for the opportunity, they've agreed in the recording of two of his songs: “A Small Plot of Land”, featuring Jeff Taylor on vocals and Nate Wood on guitar, is a depressive chant whose inaugural regular beats gain a stronger perspective as Guiliana introduces richer drumming maneuvers; and “Warszawa”, which is strongly anchored in Lindner’s obscure interventions, becoming a suitable prop for McCaslin’s infatuations.
The quartet dabbles in ambient-electronic allures through the addition of Deadmau5’s “Coelacanth 1”, in which the quartet attempts to describe the beauty but also the dangers of a distant planet, and Mutemath’s “Remain”, a soulful blend of electronic, pop, and gospel that left me in a state of inebriant ecstasy. 
Glory” only reinforces the bandleader’s dexterity as a composer and improviser, at the same time that features Lindner in a beautiful solo piano instance. The intensification of the closing harmonic cycles brought in more of the saxophonist’s swirling explorations.

McCaslin’s sound and ideas remain fresh and original, and Beyond Now stands a few steps ahead of the present time. As a pioneer of this type of fusion, he solidifies the present by keeping an eye in the future. After all, he’s a jazz giant, a reputation founded on his own merit.

Favorite Tracks:
05 – Bright Abyss ► 08 – Glory ► 09 – Remain