Best records of 2019

Steve Lehman Trio & Craig Taborn
The People I Love (Pi Recordings)

Much of the repertoire on The People I Love is designed to make a bold statement about the state of modern Jazz in 2019. New classics by Kurt Rosenwinkel (“A Shifting Design”) and Kenny Kirkland (“Chance”) from the 1980s and 1990s take the place of tried and true standards. And Lehman and his quartet apply a glitchy, modernist sheen to “The Impaler” by Jeff “Tain” Watts just as easily as they re-imagine “qPlay,” a piece of 2000-era electronica by Autechre. Lehman also revisits several works from his own repertoire, including “Curse Fraction” and “Beyond All Limits.” His composition “Echoes”, originally recorded on Travail, Transformation & Flow (New York Times #1 Jazz Album of 2009), is reconfigured here, and features a handful of virtuosic piano gestures that cascade in and around Lehman’s piercing alto solo.

The album is punctuated by three duo improvisations between Lehman and Taborn, who manage to interact in a way that feels authentic and heartfelt while staying utterly contemporary. And here again, Lehman makes a statement; demonstrating intimate familiarity with 60 years of experimental saxophone vocabulary – from Eric Dolphy and Anthony Braxton to Arthur Blythe and Evan Parker – and making a compelling case for its integration into a modern-day concept of the classic alto saxophone quartet album.

The People I Love is a record that bears witness to a new openness in Lehman’s music. Unedited rehearsal tapes (“A Shifting Design”) and joyous laughter at the end of a take are all left on the track — inviting the listener to take a look behind the curtain at where the music comes from. The result may be his most mature artistic statement to date.