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Steve Lehman Trio Dialect Fluorescent

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Steve Lehman Trio

Dialect Fluorescent

Pi

A classic trio record, straight up. And the “straight up” part of that assessment is almost more remarkable than the “classic” aspect. New York-based alto-saxophonist Steve Lehman has made his name so far as a performer and composer who, like many of his peers, is pushing against the confines of what people call jazz; his 2009 album Travail, Transformation, and Flow, in particular, rolled out a palette of knotty structures and dissonant harmonies applied via tightly controlled playing from an octet. On Dialect Fluorescent, Lehman, bassist Matt Brewer, and drummer Damion Reid just blow. They even play some standards.

Of course, few players coming out of any school of jazz today can blow quite like Lehman and company do here. There is not only a lot of sharp playing laid out over the course of nine cuts, there’s clearly a lot of listening, and a lot of borderline-psychic sync too. Powerhouses Reid and Brewer keep Swiss-watch time as they roller-coaster over the rhythmic contours of Lehman’s arrangements, Reid dropping right in on Brewer’s stuttering line on “Fumba Rebel” like it’s his own heartbeat. On “Jeannine,” they walk and swing it tight like they were trying out for a vintage Sonny Rollins trio session. Lehman’s in step too, locking into the rhythm section’s muscular groove only to dart out across it with agile feints and parries.

Those feints and parries constitute a key part of Lehman’s musical playbook, and in the non-original tunes they highlight what’s really going on. The opening minute or so of the trio’s take on John Coltrane’s “Moment’s Notice” almost sounds like a rehearsal tape—casual, unhurried—before it suddenly drops into gear and takes off, Lehman pushing hard against the curves in the tune, airing out and worrying the melody like he just wrote it. “Pure Imagination” (the Leslie Bricusse/Anthony Newley tune from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory) likewise departs from the familiar melody and its bittersweet associations and evolves into a flat-out sprint across the chords until he comes back to give the tune a broad wink at the wind-up. He’s taking the old stuff, and the old way of playing it, and hammering his own stamp onto it. In a word, classic. (Lee Gardner)

The Steve Lehman Trio plays the Windup Space April 12. For more information, visit thewindupspace.com.

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