Steven Lugerner made a hell of a splash by releasing co-debut albums to lead out the 2011 year, utilizing two different ensembles and presenting two divergent sounds. One of those recordings, Narratives, was a lesson in potent melodies and story-like song construction. The second of those two simultaneous debuts was These Are the Words, an album of sharp angles and clipped conversations… a perfect counterbalance to its partner album.
With his new release For We Have Heard, Lugerner returns with the same quartet from These Are the Words, and builds on that album’s pricklier nature. Basing this album’s compositions on a numeric approach to biblical text, Lugerner presents music that challenges the ear, just as it must have challenged the composer as he went about the task of crafting the songs. And as it is with any challenge, the effort to engage comes with its rewards.
Your album personnel: Steven Lugerner (Bb clarinet, bass clarinet, oboe, English horn, soprano & alto Saxophones, flute & alto flute), Darren Johnston (trumpet), Myra Melford (piano), and Matt Wilson (drums).
The album opens with “Us and Our Fathers,” a contemplative piano-led piece with some saxophone accompaniment. It channels the stillness of the morning.
“When a Long Blast Is Sounded” begins with a strong martial cadence. This holds fast, so that when the ensemble strays from a tight formation, there remains a sense of marching straight ahead. Drummer Matt Wilson, who brings a joyful swing to many of his own projects, displays yet again the breadth of his talent by contributing essential parts to an album with an acerbic disposition and one that employs an unconventional geometry in shaping songs. On subsequent track “Drove Out Before Us,” Wilson picks up right where he left off on the previous track, driving the tune with a cadence that crackles and pops with electricity, and partners with Lugerner’s sax in raising up and calling out into space.
There are several themes that act as threads throughout this recording, but it may be Wilson’s drums that serves as the unifying force.
On “Be Strong and Resolute,” the quartet’s development of an edgy groove breaks suddenly into a mesmerizing piano solo, which marks one of several occurrences of Myra Melford infusing a song with an austere beauty, providing a lightness to counteract the music’s tendency to go heavy and hard. Later, on the title-track, Melford adds some gentle accompaniment, partnering with the whisper of Wilson’s drums as Lugerner and Johnston work a melodic line that is about as fluid as any on this album of unpredictable motion. A musing ballad, the title-track is a bit of a throwback to Lugerner’s previous albums.
Trumpeter Darren Johnston fits in with this project easy-peasy. Whether it be with his quintet on a recording like the Clean Feed Records release The Edge of the Forest or a collaboration with top-tier players from the Chicago free-improv scene on an album like The Big Lift, Johnston is right at home with compositions that demand an aggressive expressiveness within an atypical framework of genially displayed ferocity. On “All Those Kings,” Johnston punches woozy notes through the spaces in between Lugerner’s flailing sax lines, giving illusory form to a song that presents an illusory dispersion.
Half of the album’s ten tracks clock in around two minutes in length each. They behave as vignettes, rather than simple interludes between songs, and as a result, express themselves as flash fiction… glimpses of imagination, with a brief life and an evocative punch. They have the added feature of being the most effective doorways into connecting with this album.
Of all of Lugerner’s work to date, this is easily the most challenging. But patience brings familiarity, and that leads to changes in how the album is perceived. It’s one of those albums that rewards effort. And considering Lugerner’s relative newness to the recording scene, it marks an intriguing chapter in his development.
Released on the Primary Records label.
Jazz from the Brooklyn scene.