Written by: Dave Cantrell
‘Accretion’ is a too-seldom used word, especially given its applicability to life itself. What is progress – mental, emotional, experiential – but the accumulation of layers, the next building on the preceding, using in a sense the DNA code of what came before to help understand what’s happening now? It’s a model one could, without strain, apply to the creative process as well, and, not to sound too esoteric or theoretical, it is, I believe, one of the fundamentally innate reasons we respond to art, as if there’s some bridge of intuitive understanding that connects our lived experience with how we experience that painting, that novel, movie, piece of music. Our efforts at growth amount to what could well be called ‘soul adaptation’ and, rather inarguably, that phrase could just as readily refer to what’s happening when staring at a blank canvas be it made of actual canvas, paper, clay, or an untouched piece of sheet music. From that perspective we arrive, today anyway, at the LA-based project TEETHERS, the six-piece ensemble built around composer/drummer Andrew Lessman whose second video from their just-dropped self-titled debut EP Stereo Embers premiers today.
As with most descriptors applied to, well, just about anyone but especially to an artist of Lessman’s complexity and aptitude, ‘composer/drummer’ barely scrapes the surface of the guy. Raised for his first eleven years by a single mom in Elgin, Illinois, his earliest interest in music was limited by what circumstance offered, which in his case, there being no musicians in his immediate surroundings, amounted to playing trombone in his primary school band and listening somewhat obsessively to nearby Chicago’s alt station Q101. It was that latter influence that came to the fore when, receiving a $200 drum kit for his 11th birthday, he immediately formed a Nirvana cover band with best bud Jim. So far so modestly okay but at the age of thirteen that bed of circumstance would be dramatically, sadly uprooted when his mom succumbed to the cancer she’d been fighting for half a dozen years. Cataclysmic, of course, and a lot to process for a 13-year-old kid but from tragedy, as is not infrequently the case, came inevitable change – in his case moving to San Diego with his sister to live with their highly-regarded jazz musician dad Mark (at one time one half of the Lessman/Almond Band with Mark Almond alumnus Johnny Almond) – and in that change the younger Lesser would find himself on a snaking trail of opportunity and kismet that would transform his life. First it was his new pals at his new high school, who were essentially punks loitering on the quad and with them he formed hardcore band The Irrelevants, a DIY enterprise that at the very least delivered the sense of structure any budding musician needs should they proceed to make a go of their passion. Meanwhile, at home, where his actively gigging dad hosted many of his fellow musicians from the brimming local jazz scene, there also lived a healthy record collection reflective of his father’s musical world. Intrigued, the son dug in. With Dad acting as conduit, guide, and translator of sorts, Lessman sat back down behind that same Hohner set-up that’d been lugged along from Illinois and for the next year played along to the sounds of Ornette, Miles, Art Blakey and more, in the process becoming proficient enough to begin sitting in at Pop’s gigs. And here’s where it gets especially interesting.
One of his dad’s friends, drummer/educator Duncan Moore, appraising the young man’s potential, managed to pull a string or two and get the kid a spot at the UCSD summer jazz camp where, via a fateful twist of disappointment – the drum class full up – Lessman landed in the care of the legendary Wadado Leo Smith, the renowned trumpeter/composer that had been a crucial early member of the AACM (Advanced Association of Creative Musicians) in 1960s Chicago. The second the student Lessman sat down with the teacher Smith the wall of pre-conception, about rhythm, structure, the very gist of music itself, began to crumble and out of the dust the new Andrew emerged. From there the young artist’s path both widened (conceptually) and narrowed (practically) as his efforts as expressed in college audition tapes ended up with him enrolling at Walada’s employer the California Institute of the Arts in Los Angeles.
And so here we are, Lessman’s debut EP under the aegis TEETHERS (credits below), bringing us three pieces that display a range both playful and adventurous, a remit that, because it encompasses that most fervent combination – confidence and curiosity – surprises its listener at every turn in a way that also, come to think of it, makes sense given that path he landed on those years ago. From the frantic funk jazz burst “Goose Chasing” that limns a line between Sun Ra and James White, through the ruminative, tight-but-expansive “Monopoly on Violence/Mushroom Dance” that suggested to this writer Odean Pope’s Saxophone Choir chasing down a mellower, rockier groove a la The James Taylor Quartet (no, not that James Taylor) to our featured track which, in keeping with the spirit of discovery, we’ll let you explore yourself – it’s why we’re here, after all – (though we will posit that of the EP’s trio of tracks it’s the one in which we find the richest expression of Lesser’s myriad influences, the sense of an imagined intuitive stage where Lesser Sr is joined by his former bandmate Mr Almond and Wadado Leo Smith and his son almost palpable), it’s nothing less than a triumph of a debut. It’s a joy, it’s a trip, and it’s gratifying to see a young man reaching for the golden ring of success not as defined by material riches but rather the richness of his craft. That very intent strikes us as satisfying as the content itself, which, given its quality, is truly saying something.
Andrew Lessman, drums/compositions
Graham Chapman, bass
Alexander Noice, guitar
Joe Santa Maria, saxophone
Ted Taforo, saxophone
Stefan Kac, tuba