Dialect Flourescent places Lehman in the context of a trio with Matt Brewer (bass) and Damion Reid (drums), who also played on Dual Identity. Listening to opener "Allocentric" the first few times, something felt a little unsettling about it. Then it hit me: All three guys are playing the same thing; the same tricky time pattern, the same uneven cluster of notes, even Reid. While the delivery is impressive, this kind of thing sounds a little too tense and makes me feel restless. It's almost like math jazz. Part of my hesitation comes from the fact that Travail was played by an octet, so the focus of the music was regularly shifting between three horns and vibes. Here, it's just a bright, semi-sharp alto and rhythm for virtually the whole album. Everything is front and center from the get-go.
Yet as the album proceeds, things loosen up a little, although Lehman's ability to execute a barrage of notes in a solo is something that ceases. (That's a good thing, by the way. It reminds me in a way of when Anthony Braxton covered Monk's "Skippy" at a tempo that made his alto lead sound like a spray of bullets.) The biggest surprise comes in the next track, a reading of John Coltrane's "Moment's Notice." It isn't recognizable until the trio plays the theme at end of it, and even then it's hard to say if they Brewer had been following the changes of the song or not. The album's alternating pattern of following a Lehman piece with a cover continues and provides an interesting view of the band. After each mathy turn, the trio swings fast and furiously through Duke Pearson ("Jeanine") and Lehman's former teacher Jackie McLean ("Mr. E"). Between those two, he chooses a real out-there cover, "Pure Imagination" from the Willy Wonka soundtrack, which gets a little frenzied. "Alloy" and "Fumba Rebel," the two originals in the second half of the album, aren't as locked into the rigidity of the earlier pieces, as if they took a cue from the bop covers.
There are plenty of moments on Dialect Fluorescent that maintain my fascination with Lehman - his speed and agility, the way he solos in unusual groups of note patterns. It's just that the delivery feels the same in many tracks, like the group wants to devour the music rather than savour it. Still, it makes me want to hear more of him, making me tempted to get his other albums and the rest of the discs by Fieldwork, his collaborative trio with Vijay Iyer and Tyshawn Sorey. Maybe I'll listen to this again too.