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Steve Lehman Quintet: Structural Fire

Everyone on Structural Fire is up for the Jackie McLean song “Action,” and altoist Steve Lehman’s long lines burn like Anthony Braxton. Lehman was a student of McLean and Braxton, and he shares some of McLean’s rugged blues phrasing and Braxton’s obsessive quality-I think this is a virtue. He also absorbed wide linear leaps like Eric Dolphy’s: on “Panther (Dedicated to Tomas Fujiwara)” he sounds like he’s revising McLean’s style like Dolphy revised Charlie Parker’s. But the title of the CD is accurate: the fire is in his forms and his energy, more than in his content. Also, trumpeter Roy Campbell Jr.’s fast solos show his gift for vivid phrases and bop fanfares; they’re shapely solos, yet his invention isn’t quite sustained. Even in the quiet free improvisations, Campbell’s fragile sense of melody only sometimes emerges.

Five of the six pieces are originals, and the program alternates between hard bop, free bop and group improvisations. Guitarist Kevin O’Neil’s up-down solo lines are not satisfying, and bassist John Hebert is largely a role player. Campbell, muted and open horn, is the focus of attention on the two group improvisations, where Lehman plays flute and a bit of sopranino. The middle of “Orbits” is fast and hard-hitting. On “Lasers,” a duet piece by Lehman and drummer Kevin Norton, the altoist alternates between intense passages and Braxtonlike variations on a two-beat motive.

The themes that Lehman wrote are especially eclectic. The title song suggests Monk, Dameron and Roscoe Mitchell, while “Lasers” recalls Braxton and “Panther,” apart from a lick from Monk’s “Eronel,” should have been a Blue Note theme, ca. 1960.

Originally Published