It’s a given that creative musicians work long and hard to master their instruments and develop an individual sound. But there’s another thing that separates the technically gifted player from the transcendent one. It’s what we might call the collaborative ear, that vital sixth sense that enables improvisers to bring out the best in each other and fashion meaningful stories, even while embracing the hazard of playing without a set script.Bassist Stephan Crump and alto saxophonist Steve Lehman imbue all their work with that sense of trust and openness. On Kaleidoscope & Collage, their thinking takes on a unique clarity, one that perhaps only a duo project could have revealed.
“Steve and I had circled one another for years in various colleagues’ ensembles,” notes Stephan. The two finally had a chance to work together under the leadership of guitarist Liberty Ellman. Ophiucus Butterfly, Ellman’s absorbing 2005 release on the Pi label, was the result. Although there were six musicians involved, Crump and Lehman “clicked” in a way that was hard for either of them to ignore, even in the earliest rehearsals. “Whenever a moment broke through where Steve and I found ourselves interacting directly,” Stephan says, “I felt a distinct polarity to our music that demanded further investigation.”
Despite their busy schedules, they made time over the course of two years to connect for open-ended duo sessions every few months, recording the results at Stephan’s home studio. “We could have released what happened that first day,” Crump enthuses. “I couldn’t stop listening to it. We were so clearly riding the edge and pushing each other into new territory.”
“Both of us integrate a fairly wide repertory of extended/experimental playing techniques,” Lehman observes. “But it almost always happens within the context and confines of an ad-hoc compositional structure. We’re free improvising, we’re playing in odd meters, we’re using extended techniques, we’re playing songs, and we’re doing it, in many cases, all at the same time.”
Crump recorded and mixed the session at home, and how fitting that Liberty Ellman, who helped birth the Crump/Lehman duo in the first place, was recruited to master it. (A capable and sought-after sound engineer, Ellman is also a member of Crump’s Rosetta Trio.) “The collage was just as pliable as it was stubborn at times,” says Stephan, “and all along we reveled in the process of making this album in a way neither of us ever had before.” Which leaves us, the listeners, to complete the process and drink in what these two venturesome, compatible spirits have wrought.
David R. Adler
New York, October 2010