With the more or less collapse of the major label system over the past five years or so, independent music labels have continued doing what they’ve been doing since the dawn of musical history; namely, presenting the best talent around. Labels like Portugal’s Clean Feed, New York’s Pi Recordings, and the Cadence/CIMP family of labels are but a few of the fiercely important and vital sources of creative music, particularly when it comes to Jazz and improvised music. Two such relatively recent new artists appearing on all of the aforementioned documenters have been saxophonists Stephen Gauci and Steve Lehman.
Stephen Gauci’s Basso Continuo – Nididhyasana (CF 101)
Gauci has certainly become more active both in terms of gigging and his discography since his release, Long Night Waiting (Cadence Jazz Records). Several recordings later, Gauci has seen his star rise, so much so that he is now releasing music on a frequent basis. One of his recent projects is his two bass conglomeration, Basso Continuo, heard here on its debut, Nididhyasana. Leaving the drums out of the picture, bassists Michael Bisio and Ingebrigt Haker-Flaten are called upon for percussive and harmonic duties, with the picture rounded out by excellent trumpeter Nate Wooley, who spars with the basses and Gauci. Four lengthy improvised excursions with a decidedly Indian tinge make up the program that places the low-toned backbone front and center, though Gauci and Wooley’s intertwining, spirited lines are also used to add melodic thrills, heightened drama, or shade the boisterous outing. Over the course of its almost twenty-five minutes, the opening piece, “Nididhyasana,” sets the stage for this lively and packed session with interactiveness on high order, the sky-scraping arcs being Gauci and Wooley’s spiritualized commentaries before the bassists have their own—strings flying and their bodies getting into the action, simmering down at the end for some arco and concluding horn flutters. The other long-formed piece of the record, “Chitta Vilasa,” unfolds as a Gauci/Haker-Flaten duet with a Swing sensibility, though, at its conclusion, Wooley takes his own jump into duet territory, with sputtering, pinched lines that inspire a bass/bass match. Haker-Flaten’s rubbery arco flies as the horns bubble aggressively while Haker-Flaten sets a groove that inspires the final moments. As for the shorter pieces, “Dhriti” is all muscle, ten minutes of fluttering winds and buoyant bass thunders, while the final jaunt, “Turyaga,” takes Bisio’s blistering walk and makes a meal of it, with the full quartet riding focused energy. After seemingly coming out of nowhere, Gauci offers more evidence of his continuing evolution into a major artist, with an unconventional ensemble that is creatively rewarding and emotive.
Steve Lehman Quartet – Manifold (CF 097)
Saxophonist Steve Lehman is another increasingly well-known name, with a busload of different projects and who is currently thriving on independent labels. “Manifold” presents Lehman at the helm of a quartet that includes trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson, bassist John Hebert, and drummer Nasheet Waits. Recorded in a club setting as part of Coimbra, Portugal’s “Jazz ao Centro” festival, these nine performances further expand on Lehman’s past musical offerings that have focused on heightened creative forces and tricky compositions that are both demanding of listeners and its participants. At the core of the stripped-down outing are the four variations on Lehman’s “Interlace” series, with “Interface D” commencing in a sprightly fashion, basing its jagged rhythmic stew on Waits’ inspired kitwork, soon picked up by Finlayson and Lehman, with Hebert adding a weighty counterpoint. In contrast, “Interlace F” meets its focal point with Hebert’s pointed entries and swelling winds, while Waits again takes the center of “Interlace C” that rolls mightily with a rush of the environs. Finally, “Interlace A” concludes the series with Waits’ propulsive groove that coaxes the horns incisive interactions and Hebert’s elasticity.As for the other pieces, “Is This Rhythm?” is a brief jaunt that emphasizes the attuned relationship between Lehman and Finlayson, as they echo each other’s lines in a breakneck fashion. These simultaneous conversations endure on the wonderfully inspired uptempo movement of “Cloak and Dagger” and the record’s concluding piece, “For Evan Parker,” with Lehman taking the dedicatee’s mindset to heart, with a flurry of windtones in honor of the master. While Lehman’s compositions are the focus here, the quartet also looks at two other sources, including Finlayson’s undulating “Berceuse,” a hint of the group’s sensitivity, as well as Andrew Hill’s splendid “Dusk,” with the group stretching out Hill’s contours over Hill’s one-time rhythm team’s bubbling stew.
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