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CD Review: Steve Lehman “The People I Love”

By Hrayr Attarian

Steve Lehman The People I Love

Steve Lehman – Alto saxophone

Craig Taborn – Piano

Matt Brewer – Acoustic bass

Damion Reid – Drum

Saxophonist, composer, and musical scholar Steve Lehman is a restless innovator whose experimentations have included the contemporary Western classical repertoire as well as jazz. His tenth release as a leader, the intimate The People I Love features his working trio with the addition of distinctive pianist Craig Taborn. The album covers some previously recorded Lehman originals as well as some penned by late twentieth-century masters such as guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel, pianist Kenny Kirkland, and drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts.

Indeed, Watts’ “The Impaler” is combined with Lehman’s “Echoes” for a stimulating musical hybrid. From energetic and riotous group play to overlapping streams of consciousness, the musicians feed off one another and push the tune into freer realms while remaining within the compositional framework. Taborn’s blues-tinged melodic fragments coalesce into an intriguing improvisation.

Taborn’s dense and resonant chords vary in tempo from sparse and slow to rapid and acrobatic, as he builds a passionate and dissonant extemporization within the expectant “Beyond All Limits.” The piece opens with bassist Matt Brewer’s intricate and eloquent solo, setting the mood for the quartet’s fiery repartee of spontaneous music.

The darkly cinematic interpretation of Autechre’s electronica song, “qPlay,” has a mystical and melancholic atmosphere. Drummer Damion Reid contributes muscular, complex beats to the simmering, rhythmic backdrop. Taborn’s resonant and crystalline chords set a somber tone while Lehman extemporizes with wistful elegance. His contemplative lines are simultaneously angular and mellifluous, his embellishments of the main theme provocative and enchanting.

Lehman showcases his instrumental prowess on the mercurial “A Shifting Design.” Reid’s thundering drums match Lehman’s blistering, staccato phrases in a duet evocative of live recording sessions. The track bristles with urgency and soulfulness.

The People I Love is a remarkable work—not only because of Lehman’s creative ingenuity but also because of the superb synergy among the quartet members. The impact of this vibrant recording is simultaneously cerebral and visceral. It is a brilliantly crafted disc and entirely satisfying.

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