Step Tempest Review "Storytellers" - by Richard B. Kamins
Multi-instrumentalist/composer Steven Lugerner has issued a most ambitious debut recording. “These Are The Words/Narratives” (self-released) displays 2 different sides of the composer’s life. “…Words” is based on the Old Testament/5 Books of Moses with the titles of the first 5 tracks taking their name from the first word of each Book. For instance, the opening track “In the Beginning” takes its name from the initial word of the Book of Genesis (in Hebrew, “Bereshit.) In the composer’s tone poem, the track starts in complete silence and it is 18 seconds before one begins to hear the seemingly random notes from Myra Melford’s piano and another 30 seconds before the hint of cymbal sounds from Matt Wilson. It’s not until the 3 minute mark that one can discern a pattern and another 30 seconds before Lugerner’s clarinet joins with the trumpet of Darren Johnston to create a melody that sounds like clouds floating through a morning sky. Wilson creates short melodic passages beneath the long tones of reed and brass plus the tolling piano chords. The clarinet rises out of the mix for an expressive solo that slowly spreads its range, like Adam walking through Eden for the first time. The hypnotic quality of the music captures the wonder and awe of first sight, builds in intensity as the world takes shape. Melford’s splintered piano lines bring the First Book to a close.
This is an impressive undertaking. Throughout the program, Lugerner’s music illustrates the complex object that is man and his burgeoning and sometimes difficult relationship to and with the Lord. One hears echoes of Aaron Copland, Igor Stravinsky and Leonard Bernstein as well as Marty Ehrlich and Fred Hersch - there are moments of noise, of chaos, but also times of sheer beauty. On repeated listenings, one hears in better detail the interplay of the 4 musicians; the shapes within the music soon make more sense and one realizes that this is a meditation of the themes of belief, creativity, devotion and commitment.
CD 2, ”Narratives“, features a septet of Lugerner’s contemporaries from The New School, each one chosen for his particular sound. The front line consists of Lugerner (saxes and clarinet), Lucas Pino (tenor sax, flute) and Itamar Borochov (trumpet, flugelhorn - see Ramez review) with guitarist Angelo Spagnolo, pianist Glenn Zaleski, bassist Ross Gallagher and drummer Michael W. Davis. Even with the expanded palette, Lugerner does not clutter his sonic palette. Trombonist Adam Mendonca (who does not appear on the CD) contributes 2 tracks, the high-energy and funky ”Flux Capacitor“ (remember ”Back to the Future“) and the cinematic ”Toy Balloons“ that closes the program. Guitarist Spagnolo’s offering, ”At Your Feet, Frankincense“, is an ensemble piece that spreads the melody lines in various combinations of instruments.
Other highlights includes the lovely ballad ”Alondra“ that features a lovely soprano solo from the leader (and composer) and a fascinating, off-kilter, guitar solo. ”Simplicity“ is also a sweet ballad, Borochov’s handsome flugelhorn leading the way with a cascading line from the reeds as support. As Davis’s drum push from the beneath, the piece becomes heated before the handsome alto sax solo quiets the commotion. I hear the influence of Billy Strayhorn in the melody line of Lugerner’s ”French Windows“ but the forceful yet conversational drumming reminds one of the work of Steve Gadd on Steely Dan’s ”Aja.“ Pino’s tenor solo reinforces the Shorter connection without being slavish to his "sound."
Like the first CD in the package, ”Narratives“ offers much to the discerning listener, especially if one is patient. Don’t look for obvious influences; instead, listen for the interplay, for the original melodies, impressive arrangements, and the honest attempt to embrace many styles without settling on one. I imagine these works open up a bit more in concert yet do not seem underdone on record.
-Richard B. Kamins (http://steptempest.blogspot.com/)