Steven Lugerner

These Are The Words/Narratives
No label No #

By Ken Waxman

There’s Cool-Jazz, Funk-Jazz and Free-Jazz, so why not Gematria-Jazz? Gematria substitutes numbers for letters in the Hebrew alphabet, using the resulting numerical harmony to analyze the torah.

Multi-reedman Steve Lugerner, who studies Gematria, used it to create These Are The Words, one CD in this package. Transmogrifying portions of the torah into a series of numbers, he arranged the numbers to create melodic figures, tone rows, harmonies, tempos and time signatures. “I wanted to create Jewish music that didn’t necessarily sound overtly Jewish,” he says. It doesn’t; but it does stand up as high-calibre improvisation. This may have as much to do with his associates – trumpeter Darren Johnston, pianist Myra Melford, and drummer Matt Wilson – as his divinely inspired compositions.

Further evidence for this are the performances on Narratives – the other CD – recorded with Lugerner’s working septet. Although well-played and enlarged harmonically with trumpeter Itamar Borochov, reedists Lucas Pino and Lugerner, pianist Glenn Zaleski guitarist Angelo Spagnolo, bassist Ross Gallagher and drummer Michael Davis, the results vary little from many other combos’ sounds.

These Are The Words is a different tale. Magisterial, with links to romanticism, serialism and inspirational jazz, interludes are organized so that like the torah’s verse and sentences the flow is logical. Wilson’s pats and ruffs are mere rhythmic allusions, while it’s Melford’s patterning which sets the pace. Melodic at times, atonal at others, she keeps expositions grounded. Meantime Johnston’s buzzing trumpet slurs or moderated flugelhorn interpolations decorate or deconstruct the themes. often in tandem with Lugerner’s reeds. His languid clarinet lines or cohesive flute peeps harmonize sinuously, while his bass clarinet guffaws join Johnston’s rubato textures to suggest the Eric Dolphy-Booker Little partnership. Stand out is “These Are The Names”. Grounded by cascading keyboard lines the tune moves through multiphonic brass screeches and harsh reed vamps back to a thematic recapitulation.

Narratives however lacks a similar sense of urgency – or is it religious fervor? While intelligent use is made of multi-level and canon-styled horn harmonies, and Pino’s post-modal saxophone licks are tough enough, moderato-paced tracks appear to aim towards pacification not enlightenment.

So seek out this set for Lugerner’s torah variations. Right now he apparently lacks the flair in what may be called gentile music that he brings to compositions closer to his soul.

Tracks: Disc1: In The Beginning; These Are The Names; And He Called; In The Wilderness; These Are The Words; Sustenance; The Evening Episode Disc2: Flux Capacitor; Simplicity; Here; Now There; Zavat; At Your Feet, Frankincense; Alondra; French Windows; Toy Balloons

Personnel: Disc1: Darren Johnston: trumpet, flugelhorn; Steven Lugerner: Bb clarinet, bass clarinet, soprano and alto saxophones, flute, oboe, English horn; Myra Melford: piano; Matt Wilson: drums Disc 2: Itamar Borochov: trumpet and flugelhorn; Steven Lugerner: alto and soprano saxophones, clarinet, bass clarinet; Lucas Pino: tenor saxophone and flute; Glenn Zaleski: piano; Angelo Spagnolo: guitar; Ross Gallagher: bass; Michael Davis: drums

—For New York City Jazz Record September 2011