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January/February 2006

Steve Lehman
Demian as Posthuman
Pi Recordings

Alto saxophonist Steve Lehman grafts the robotic character of sequencing and programming onto live improvisation to create a mechanized, largely groove-based music intentionally wrung dry of every vestige of emotion. Lehman uses a band on three of the 12 tracks; drummer Tyshawn Sorey is his lone human partner on the remainder. Sorey's gone to school on beat slicing and applied it to live playing. It's impressive, but given that there's no way a human drummer can replicate the machine-tooled perfection of a painstakingly programmed drum track, I have reservations about its effectiveness. Better are the tracks where he cuts loose from the beat.

Lehman plays a highly chromatic, Greg Osby/Steve Coleman brand of alto. His articulations are crisp, his phrasing precise and abrupt, his tone metallic. He's as fast and accurate as they come, befitting the quasiautomated nature of his concept. His sequencing is reasonably imaginative, but nowhere near as accomplished as it needs to be, given the standard set by such nonjazz musician/programmers as Richard D. James (Aphex Twin) and Tom Jenkinson (Squarepusher).
Lehman is a fine young musician who should only get better. This is a step in the right direction, but he still has a ways to go.

Originally published in January/February 2006
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