Alto saxophonist Steve Lehman’s 14th release is jazz for those tired of rehashing the genre’s past and ready to “be here now,” as ’60s-era spiritual travelers were fond of saying. The People I Love is resolutely modern. With resourceful pianist Craig Taborn joining Lehman’s longstanding trio, the album is intriguing and evocative—and it swings like a thunderstorm, drenching you in the power and possibility of the universe.
Lehman has always been a cerebral composer with a bent toward math-jazz. Sometimes, brilliant though his compositions are, their sheer complexity has overwhelmed his trio’s soul and groove. Not here. As Taborn builds a subtle, strong foundation, Lehman, bassist Matt Brewer, and drummer Damion Reid lead the music down numerous improvisational rabbit-holes, each one more exciting than the last. This band came to play.
Jazz musicians listen to everything, and that’s reflected in The People I Love’s broad palette and improvisational brilliance. Split between covers of modern classics and Lehman’s compositions, it breathes in equally of recent musical history and contemporary modes. Kurt Rosenwinkel’s “A Shifting Design” borders Kenny Kirkland’s “Chance,” as relevant to this quartet as are versions of (overlooked composer) Jeff “Tain” Watts’ “The Impaler” and Autechre’s “qPlay.” Lehman revisits older works from his own repertoire as well, including “Curse Fraction” and “Beyond All Limits.”
It all gels and flows as one vivid organism, Brewer and Reid shape-shifting the music with elastic funk granules while Lehman flies overhead (dig the lo-fi sound and joyous improvisation on “Shifting Design”), always melodic, always on point, always in the cut.
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