Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Steve L 8 + Sam B 5

Saxophonist, composer, arranger, and conceptualist Steve Lehman, who studied with Jackie McLean, Anthony Braxton, George Lewis and Tristan Murail, creates music that one can not absorb all at once but must let soak into your ears and mind over a period of time (much better if you don't hurry.)  "Mise en Abime" (Pi Recordings) is the second CD to feature the Octet of Jonathan Finlayson (trumpet), Mark Shim (tenor saxophone), Tim Albright (trombone), Jose Davila (tuba), Drew Gress (bass), Tyshawn Sorey (drums) and Chris Dingman (vibraphone) plus the leader on alto saxophone and live electronics.

The title refers to the phenomenon of standing between 2 mirrors and looking at the myriad reflections.  That's an apropos title as this music "reflects" the history of creative music, with elements of jazz, hip hop, classical, West African music, noise and more; it's also about Mr. Lehman's history, the explorations he has taken within the worlds of Jackie McLean (and his main influence, Bud Powell) and within the music he heard as a young man (the only non-original is a fascinating take on the 1997 hip hop tune "Luchini" by the duo Camp Lo which comes near the end of "Chimera.")

Earshot Jazz Photography
Opening with a flurry of notes from the saxophonist (unaccompanied), the program shows its colors from the way Lehman arranges the music (the drone of the vibes, the keening saxophones and the moaning brass plus the forceful drums.) There are moments when the track reminds me of Henry Threadgill's music for his Very Very Circus. Sorey is truly the driving voice throughout the program, his dancing drums pushing the musicians (his work beneath Lehman on "13 Colors" is visceral).  He literally blasts off at the start of "Beyond All Limits" and sets a furious tempo on "Autumn Interlude." Dingman's vibraphone "rings", his notes sustaining, shimmering, creating a soundscape that is more percussive than melodic (hear how he frames Finlayson's trumpet and Alrbright's trombone solos on "Glass Enclosure Transcription" ) - the simple melody he plays at the onset of "Chimera/Luchini" is the germ of a melody line from which the piece takes its shape.  Dingman's long solo (the only one until Sorey takes over near the end) dances and twists like a murmuration of birds, always changing shape and direction.

The closing track, "Parisian Thoroughfare Transcription", features what is probably Bud Powell slowly playing a series of chords (sounding like a melody from Beethoven) and talking (although you can't really make what he is saying) while Lehman solos and creates an electronic soundscape to wash over the music.  The overall feeling is one of time travel, of dreams, of reflections, of looking back and forward at the same time.

"Mise en Abime" is an intense musical experience, best listened to from beginning to end (and then again).  Though one notices his various influences, no one but Steve Lehman could have created this music.  His biting tone, his endless quest to discover new ways to make the sounds he hears in his head come alive, and the brilliant musicians who interpret those sounds, all of the above and more makes this recording one to own.  For more information, go to www.pirecordings.com.

"Exploding Syndrome" (self-released) is the debut recording for the Sam Boshnack Quintet.  Formed in 2011 by trumpeter and composer Boshnack, the same year she formed B'Shnorkestra (a 13-member ensemble - reviewed here), the SBQ blends influences from a wide swath of musical territory.  One hears West African grooves on "Dormant" and "Juba", slinky New Orleans rhythms on "Suite For Seattle's Royal Court, Movement 3", heavy metal scat singing on the title track followed by an overdubbed trumpet choir on the title track, and classical melody on "Xi." Sharing the front line is Beth Fleenor (clarinet, bass clarinet, vocal) and Dawn Clement (piano, Wurlitzer, synths), supported by Isaac Castillo (acoustic bass) and Max Wood (drums, percussion).

The blend of bass clarinet and trumpet is particularly delightful on the opening track, "Juba."  With Ms. Clement's Wurltzer setting the foundation and Wood's driving percussion.  The solos are short yet each musician displays a vigor that helps to build excitement as the music progresses.  The 3-movement "Suite..." moves from an opening melody (perhaps inspired by Wayne Horvitz) into a rhythmic jaunt flavored by Castillo's percussive bass lines and Ms. Clement's burbling organ.  The lively trumpet solo is followed by a forceful keyboard spotlight over buoyant bass and drums. "Movement 2" opens with bowed bass and muted drums and cymbals before the handsome melody emerges.  There is a stately piano solo before Ms. Fleenor's bass clarinet suggests Eric Dolphy in the company of Herbie Hancock. The crisp attack and sound of Ms. Boshnack's trumpet stands out as the piece reaches an intense climax. That attack has more of a bluesy tinge on during her solo on "Dormant."

"Ashcloud" may have an ominous title but is a touching ballad built upon a short piano figure.  The melody is stated by trumpet and clarinet before Ms. Boshnack creates an emotionally rich solo that stays in the middle range of the instrument.  Ms. Clement also creates a lovely solo before Ms. Fleenor plays the short piano figure on her instrument in support of a handsome bowed bass solo.  The performance shows the strength of this ensemble, how they listen and support each other, and how no one instrument or instrumentalist dominates the music - no surprise, as that is how they approach this material throughout.

The Sam Boshnack Quintet is in the midst of a new adventure - "The Nellie Bly Project" (read about it here - but will soon hit the West Coast trail in support of "Exploding Syndrome."  This music has fire, passion, melody, and excellent interactions - you should listen.  For more information, go to samanthaboshnack.wordpress.com.

Listen to "Suite..Movement 2":

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