FRIDAY, OCTOBER 29 SEATTLE ART MUSEUM, 8PM
Workshop with Steve Lehman
Free and open to the public.
In the year since Steve Lehman made his first Earshot Festival appearance, in a riveting solo performance for sax and electronics, he has confirmed his standing as one of the most exciting and innovative jazz performers, anywhere.
His 2009 octet album Travail, Transformation & Flow has continued to draw rave reviews: four-and-one-half stars from DownBeat; top-10 listing from more than 30 publications around the country; and a New York Times rating as the pop or jazz CD of the year. The Jazz Journalists Association in April recognized Lehman in three categories: composer, alto saxophonist, and recording of the year.
Win acclaim like that, and suddenly the seemingly impossible can happen: a musician can get to go on tour with his octet, generally a prohibitively expensive undertaking. That is what Lehman has been doing. His eight-piece has appeared around the U.S. and Europe. It is scheduled to continue touring well into 2011.
Also since his last Earshot appearance, another of Lehman’s bands, Dual Identity, released its debut, self-titled disc. The band includes other leaders of the New York progressive-jazz scene including Rudresh Mahanthappa.
The same month, the Jack Quartet presented the world premiere of Lehman’s “Nos Revi Nella” for string quartet.
That suggests the Brooklyn-reared saxophonist’s musical range. So do his recordings with his quintet, and with the group Fieldwork (Lehman, pianist Vijay Iyer, and monster drummer Tyshawn Sorey). With Mahanthappa, those players comprise a new breed of charging instrumentalist-composers.
Now we have a rare opportunity to witness the precision, drive, and huge musical imagination that Lehman’s octet exhibited on Travail, Transformation & Flow. The ensemble may claim, as validly as anything on the scene today, to be forging a rich vein into the future of jazz. The New York Times’s Nate Chinen called Travail a “breathtaking accomplishment, a blast of urban futurism at once hypnotic, kinetic and kaleidoscopic. And funky.”
Here in Seattle, the octet will be Lehman on alto sax, Jonathan Finlayson on trumpet, Mark Shim on tenor sax, Jacob Garchik on trombone, Chris Dingman on vibes, Jose Davila on tuba, Drew Gress on bass, and Cody Brown on drums – a powerhouse outfit, by any measure.
Building on advances forged by the likes of Jackie McLean, Anthony Braxton, George Lewis, Henry Threadgill, and Steve Coleman (a progression to ponder!), Lehman has impressed fans and critics, alike.
Lehman’s music is at once highly evolved – informed by studies in 21st-century musical experimentalism – and plainly catchy and driving. Relishing it certainly does not require knowledge of the theoretical concerns that go into it. But something about it will strike you as grippingly unusual.
Check this, for a pedigree. Jackie McLean, the hard-bop alto legend, was a mentor to Lehman, early on, and conveyed to him the wonders of consciously producing precise, expressive sounds and timbres.
Now jump ahead to Lehman’s fascination with a set of loosely affiliated new-music composers of “spectral music.” Since 2006 Lehman has been pursuing a doctorate at Columbia University with the best-known spectralist, the French composer Tristan Murail. Spectralism entails analyzing the spectrum of tones that contribute to any note, and then using that acoustic information as bases for composition and performance, with an intense focus on timbre and articulation.
Lehman has become the first jazz composer to make extensive use of spectralism, which can make his music difficult to perform. But a good deal of his appeal is that he has managed to attain a group dynamic of rare cohesion. Of doing that so successfully with his octet – of integrating spectral harmony and improvised music – he says by phone from New York: “That’s something I’ve been pursuing for almost 10 years. It requires a delicate balance to be very specific and detail-oriented in composing a piece and at the same time setting things up so they can be made much better by the individuals you work with.”