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Thursday, January 10, 2008

Steve Lehman - Manifold (Clean Feed, 2007) ****

Saxophonist Steve Lehman is pretty productive, releasing two excellent albums in a few months time, one live album with a quartet and a studio album with a quintet.

Steve Lehman - Manifold (Clean Feed, 2007) ****

The quartet record brings a live performance given in the Salão Brazil club in Coimbra, Portugal, with John Hebert on bass, Jonathan Finlayson on trumpet, Nasheet Waits on drums and Lehman himself on alto. Lehman's love for complex rhythms and curious compositions comes even better to the fore here than on his previous albums. The first track is all rhythmic excitement with a great trumpet-drums intro, and the short second track also has an kind of start-stop feel to it, hectic and calm at the same time, using counterpoint as a key ingredient in this and all other compositions. My favorite track is Dusk, the long third piece, and probably because it is more down-tempo, or because the musicians get more possibilities to improvize. And that's the real quality of this album, it's more free than the studio album, it offers more openness, enabling the musicians to demonstrate their musicianship. It's as a consequence more emotional, and less cerebral than the studio album, and it therefore gets my preference. The only downside is the background chatter of the not always so attentive audience at times, but that's a minor comment.

Steve Lehman - On Meaning (Pi Recordings, 2007) ***

The studio album goes even further in its intricacy. And while the total time is limited, the short, complex, dense tracks are at times breath-taking, requiring lots of concentration from the musicians to tackle the many challenging parts. The unusual rhythms often made me think of Rudresh Mahanthappa and Vijay Iyer's work. The latter is of course his band-mate in Fieldwork, together with drummer Tyshawn Sorey. Sorey also participates here, together with Jonathan Finlayson on trumpet, Chris Dingman on vibraphone and Drew Gress on bass. Now, I know this record has been praised by many reviewers, including the New York Times. My concern with the music is that its complexity is stifling, with the melodic elaboration and pure musicality suffering from too much organisation, too many little aspects of twists and turns, too angular. It is a technical feat, for sure, but at the expense of the music at times. The fluidity and emotional directness of the live album are insufficiently present here.

You can listen and download Manifold from