Steve Lehman Octet
Travail, Transformation, and Flow
Pi : 2009
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SL, alto sax; Jonathan Finlayson; trumpet; Mark Shim, tenor sax; Tim Albright, trombone; Jose Davila, tuba; Chris Dingman, vibraphone; Drew Gress, bass; Tyshawn Sorey, drums.

At D:O we mostly focus on uncovering the buried riches of jazz’s past. But of course there’s lots of vital jazz being made now. To help spotlight some of this exciting new work, we’re starting to offer occasional previews of upcoming albums that we think are extraordinary, and worth your attention. (Are we now shilling? Yes, but we are shilling in highly selective fashion, and in ways that we hope will add to the conversation about the music — ideally with comments from the musicians themselves.)

We’re proud to officially launch the series with the lead track off Steve Lehman’s Travail, Transformation, and Flow, which will be released next week on Pi Recordings. “Echoes” showcases his interest in spectral music, but you don’t need to know anything about microtonal harmonies to appreciate the shimmering textures, cutting solo, and bold mix of stasis and motion. Throughout, Lehman’s octet brings his most accomplished set of compositions to life — over a year in the making — and delivers plenty of surprises, including a cover of The GZA’s “Living in the World Today.” After all, the Wu Tang Clan created their own brand of spectral soundscapes.

The octet’s only New York appearance will be Monday, June 8th, 7pm, at Le Poisson Rouge, 158 Bleecker Street in the West Village. The group is only doing one set, and given the various commitments of all concerned, it was a feat to get this superlative band together for the occasion, so WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?

And now we turn it over to Steve for more insight into the album and its influences:

In many cases, it’s hard to separate the influence of the actual written music from the contributions of the individual players. By far, the most important compositional step I make is deciding WHO I’m going to work with. After that, my basic impetus for composing, separate from trying to do something meaningful (!), is to create musical environments that will provide enough space for the musicians in my ensemble to articulate their own musical personalities, and also challenge them to play and create in new ways.

I’ve been working to integrate ideas from spectral music into my music for almost 10 years, and it’s a work in progress. Working closely with Tristan Murail at Columbia University since 2006 has helped a lot! This octet recording represents the most fully realized example of my work with spectral harmony, specifically the project of reimagining spectral music as a new framework for improvisation. I plan to continue integrating these ideas into future artistic endeavors. It’s a part of my musical language that feels natural and essential.

More and more, I realize how fundamental Jackie McLean’s work with Bobby Hutcherson is to my entire outlook on music and creativity in general. First off, the way that Bobby Hutcherson reimagined the vibraphone in that period continues to define the way I think about that instrument. I’ve listened to all of those albums so much, that I can’t get away from them even if I try.

Not too long ago I was listening to the reissued version of Grachan Moncur’s Evolution, which is a very important record for me. The title track, “Evolution,” is so amazing and seems connected to a lot of spectral ideas about the harmony/timbre hybrid. It was very humbling to be reminded how much I owe to that music and how advanced it continues to be.

On a more basic level, the instrumentation of Evolution is strikingly similar to the instrumentation of my octet record. It’s actually the exact same except that I added a tenor and a tuba….didn’t realize that until recently. You can’t run away from yourself I guess…!

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Check out a short video documentary on the octet here:

Read Steve’s paper on Jackie McLean (“McLean’s Scene”) and much more at:

As well as:


But then again:

But don’t take our word for it:
Ben Ratliff in convo with NPR’s Josh Jackson

* * * Look for an upcoming guest post from Steve about Spectral Music, coming soon…

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