Last year young multireedist Steven Lugerner, then a recent transplant to New York from the Bay Area, released the double CD Narratives/These Are the Worlds—two separate albums made by two separate bands. The first is a quartet outing with a top-shelf lineup—pianist Myra Melford, trumpeter Darren Johnston, and drummer Matt Wilson—and the second is a more orchestral effort made with a bunch of Lugerner’s classmates at Manhattan’s New School. Together these two projects demonstrate his poise, ambition, and skill—all of which are even more impressive considering he’s in his early 20s.
Lugerner makes his Chicago debut with a scrappy trio called Chives, with bassist Matthew Wohl and drummer Max Jaffe; he grew up in Burlingame, California, with his bandmates, and they’ve played together in one group or another for 13 years (that is, more than half their lives). They’ve developed an intimate rapport, and they show it off expertly on their terrific new album, Dads (Primary)—dedicated, obviously, to their fathers. (It follows Brian Wilson, which is dedicated to the bearded and eccentric San Francisco Giants pitcher.) They’re a limber group, and the rhythm section brings elasticity and bounce to the alternately airy and driving grooves as Lugerner tangles with the themes, sometimes playing inside them and sometimes soaring far afield. In Chives he restricts himself to bass clarinet and soprano and alto saxophones (he can also play English horn and oboe), and his soprano work in particular is excellent, avoiding cloying sweetness in favor of a wonderfully dry sound reminiscent of Steve Lacy. He’s clearly someone to keep an eye on. —Peter Margasak (The Chicago Reader)