Steve Lehman Quartet – Manifold (CF 097)
Alto saxophonist Steve Lehman is a familiar name among new jazz aficionados, mostly for his pedigree of studying the instrument with Anthony Braxton and Jackie McLean, and composition (currently) with George Lewis. He’s worked in more commercial settings as well as – where these ears first heard him – with pianist Dave Burrell and drummer William Hooker in the Echo/Peace Continuum group. On Manifold, his second date for Clean Feed (recorded live in Coimbra, Portugal), he’s joined by trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson, drummer Nasheet Waits and bassist John Hebert on a series of compositions and ostensible group improvisations as well as Andrew Hill’s “Dusk” and Finlayson’s “Berceuse.”
So much is made of the presence of a “concept” behind Lehman’s work that the freshness of his playing and arrangements, not to mention his consistently excellent choice of sidemen (his first on Clean Feed featured drummer Pheeroan Ak Laff and bassist Mark Dresser), seem a bit scuttled. The pretense of M-base this and Braxton/Lewis that, shouldn’t get in the way of as landmark a performance as listeners here have of “Dusk.” A more recent entry in the late pianist-composer’s catalog, it was featured prominently on 2000’s Dusk (Palmetto) with then up-and-coming saxophonists Greg Tardy and Marty Ehrlich. Hill’s music is rarely covered, and much in the way Steve Lacy approached Monk, it’s interesting to hear a piano-less unit interpret his work. Hebert’s tone is impeccable, reminiscent here of Barry Guy or Dave Holland, and sketches the pensive vamp perfectly. Finlayson and Lehman, presented up to this point in darting counterpoint, catch the rays of the tune’s Latin lilt in knotty unison. Waits and Hebert set up a an insistent but fragmented outline beneath the trumpeter’s flits and contortions, hardbop phrases played as whiffs through Don Cherry’s battered pocket horn. Lehman’s got a puckery tone and bone-worries his phrases; there’s a bit of Braxton’s speed and McLean’s power, but I’m mostly reminded of John Tchicai. As Waits steps up the density of his dry whirlwind, Lehman’s resoluteness in developing a very small phrase area is rather astounding, and accounts for much of the tension driving the piece. “Dusk” is as consummate a performance of “inside-outside” jazz as one’s likely to hear. Manifold is lean, hungry creative music, and is highly recommended to both old-soul Lehman converts and new ears alike.
Alipio C Neto Quartet – The Perfume Comes Before The Flower (CF 093)
One of the most promising aspects of the Lisbon-based Clean Feed label is their penchant for bringing together hometown heroes and improvisers from elsewhere, notably the United States. Brazil-born tenorman Alipio C. Neto, also of the IMI Kollektief, joins forces with Downtown New Yorkers, drummer Michael T.A. Thompson, tubaist Ben Stapp and trumpeter Herb Robertson, and globetrotting bassist Ken Filiano for a set of hard-driving freebop and rangy group improvisations.
The first cut brings together what are ostensibly two different tunes, “The Perfume Comes Before” and “Early News.” The first part of that equation has Neto and Filiano providing a husky and delicate bottom figure while Robertson skates atop, his own fat sound broken into pulpit-pounding shards. There’s a brief unison rejoinder before Filiano’s furious horsehairs coax Neto into grounding his boot heels and stitching together a solo of heady contrasts. He has a soft, breathy tone and an introverted sense of pacing, mostly holding back the fireworks despite the ensemble’s tendency to splay out. One doesn’t really think of “caution” coupled with a big, fat tenor sound and meaty group improvisation, but Neto’s working of phrases in “Early News” is not unlike the delicacy out of the gate you’d hear from Marzette Watts or a young Joe McPhee. When he does stretch out, as on “The Pure Experience,” his merger of tuneful phrases and burnished yawp has an uncanny resemblance to Sam Rivers.
“The Will/Nissarama” starts with a pizzicato bass recital before the front line enters with a multipart nursery rhyme, turned dark with Robertson’s nasty chortle and snide growls. Neto’s choice of frontline partner is interesting, for Robertson’s brashness and frequent extroverted smears are in direct contrast to the pensive ferocity of the leader’s tenor. Goaded into calculated yelps and false-fingered buzz, one feels like he’s just barely keeping his exuberance corked. Neto’s writing isn’t merely of blowing vehicles; approaching territory explored by Dewey Redman, “The Flower” is texturally diverse (Robertson doubles here on a musette-like instrument). Stapp fleshes out the low end, marching in tandem with Filiano as pinched reed exhortations bubble up from the depths. The trumpeter is at his most stately here, his bravura in neat opposition to the dusky landscape Neto has formed. “Aboio” grows naturally out of “Flower,” delineated by brighter colors and a more pronounced rhythm – yet still indebted to its free seed. It’ll be interesting to see how Neto grows as a composer and soloist; a power-trio and its unfettered view of the helm is my vote for the latter.