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Steve Lehman Quintet: ArtificialLight

Altoist Steve Lehman, who recently replaced tenorman Aaron Stewart in Vijay Iyer’s Fieldwork trio, already has two CIMP discs under his belt. These two new efforts-recorded roughly five months apart-are both seven-track, all-original outings, but otherwise they’re as dissimilar as can be. Artificial Light, the more accessible of the two, features the 25-year-old leader with Mark Shim on tenor, Chris Dingman on vibes, Drew Gress on bass and Eric McPherson on drums. Interface is a far more abstract statement by Lehman’s Camouflage Trio, with Mark Dresser on bass and Pheeroan akLaff on drums.

The stuttering, enormously challenging rhythmic values of “Fumba Rebel,” which leads off Artificial Light, are reminiscent (but by no means imitative) of the post-M-Base school of obliquely funky, polymetric improvisation. Drums and bass establish the mood; Lehman enters not to steal the show, but only to loop the main structural line under Dingman’s solo. Subtle details like these make the session anything but ordinary. Shim, who acquitted himself brilliantly on guitarist Liberty Ellman’s Tactiles (Pi), lends a similar low-register heft to Lehman’s music, joining the leader on several meaty unison lines and blowing captivating solos. Gress and McPherson have no problem following Lehman’s demanding rhythmic logic, and Dingman gives even the most skeletal constructions the right amount of harmonic flesh.

Interface is an encounter with Lehman the free jazzer. He is equally effective in this idiom, playing both alto and sopranino horns. Captured live in Portugal, the trio begins with the 15-minute-plus “Structural Fire,” an atonal line written on the shape of “Ornithology.” Heated blowing ensues, although a complex written passage-more typical of the writing heard on Artificial Light-intercedes briefly after about six minutes, and again after 13. The sparse instrumentation affords a better look at Lehman the saxophonist, capable of hard, precise swinging but also wild Braxtonian sonics, often in the same piece. Tempo-based excursions like “Huis Clos” and “Rison” complement more texture-oriented works like “Complex C” and the nearly 20-minute “Motion” (the latter a round-robin of unaccompanied statements by all three players).

A back-to-back listen to these two albums gives one a clear picture of Lehman’s versatility and depth. His sideman resume is impressive (Anthony Braxton, Dave Bur-rell, Oliver Lake, Kevin Norton), but with Artificial Light and Interface, Lehman stands to gain recognition as an emerging heavyweight leader.

Originally Published