Steve Lehman Trio: Dialect Fluorescent

Dialect Fluorescent plays more of a part in turning a corner in Lehman's career than initially meets the ears.

Steve Lehman Trio

Dialect Fluorescent

Label: Pi
US Release Date: 2012-03-27
UK Release Date: 2012-04-02
Label website
Artist website

If you used the internet to time travel back to 2009, you'll see that saxophonist Steve Lehman had the best-of lists cornered with his breakthrough octet release, Travail, Transformation and Flow. His use of what's called "spectral harmony" was nothing new, as his guest post on Destination: Out gave props to Gerard Grisey, Tristan Murail, Michael Finnissy, Helmut Lachenmann, and Beat Furrer – but he certainly knew how to use it to great effect. Even when watching octet play live, it was pretty cool. In late 2010, I got to see firsthand how the five-piece horn section and the vibes would play sustain a single dissonant chord as individuals took turns shifting the volume on songs like "Echoes". So the arrival of a trio album from Steve Lehman at first feels anti-climactic. But Dialect Fluorescent plays more of a part in turning a corner in Lehman's career than initially meets the ears.

This isn't to say that Lehman does for trios what he also did for octets just a few short years ago. An album like Dialect Fluorescent is one part bold for every two parts traditional. After all, Lehman's mentor of choice, even after studying composition under George Lewis and Anthony Braxton, points back to Jackie McLean. Steve Lehman may just be a hard bop traditionalist at heart, a perspective that casts Dialect Fluorescent in a positive light. The album's dangerous side does come out to play, though it's still held in check. How much trouble can a sax, bass, and drums trio get into anyway?

It's on Steve Lehman's originals were he threatens to go deep, like having drummer Damion Reid play the oddest excuse for a drum beat behind "Allocentric" and "Foster Brothers". Instead of a walking on a steady pulse, Lehman joins Reid in frighteningly executed fits and starts. Sometimes bassist Matt Brewer joins in on the syncopation, sometimes he's anchoring down something else. "Fumba Rebel" not only plays with the elasticity of the rhythm section, but it runs like hell from the genre police. Is it funk or bebop? Is Brewer's extended introduction going to give away any hints? Another odd thing about Lehman's approach to all of this is that he gives himself such a short leash for the solos. With nine tracks totaling up to 45 minutes, it's like he kept one eye on the clock, careful to make sure the sessions would all fit onto one piece of vinyl. He gives one track all to himself, though, serving as a three-minute introduction to "Allocentric". Lehman's playing is expressive but is more concerned with setting the mood than blowing away the Coltrane crowd.

Which brings me to the Dialect Fluorescent's covers. There are upright readings of Coltrane's "Moment's Notice" and Duke Pearson's "Jeannine". Then there’s McLean's "Mr. E", containing more attitude and personality than the two previously mentioned standards. Then he takes on "Pure Imagination", Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley's contribution to Charlie & the Chocolate Factory. When Lehman grinds away the notes of the melody while Reid is tears apart his kit with pure bop furry, it almost sounds sarcastic. "You want a show tune? Here's your precious Gene Wilder show tune!" It's covers like that, not "Moment's Notice", that I look forward to.

Dialect Fluorescent is not the multi-dimensional, forward-thinking release that Travail, Transformation and Flow was, nor is it meant to be. It's the sound of a young jazz maverick briefly revisiting his roots. What it lacks in spectral harmony it possesses in denying you the ability to dance. More time spent with Dialect Fluorescent brings its gutsier qualities to the surface, and that's enough to tide us over until Lehman's octet heads back into the studio.


Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.