Los Angeles-based instrumental outfit Teethers is releasing its eponymous first EP, all from drummer Andrew Lessman’s book of compositions. Lessman is a drummer known in the L. A. underground for his chameleonic contributions to a roster of projects whose jazz, avant garde, and indie pop scenes don’t always intersect. The EP is being self-released February 26.
Most of these pieces were written during Lessman’s days studying at the California Institute of the Arts under Wadada Leo Smith. This is also where Andrew met the irreverent psycho-talents who now 10 years later play on this first TEETHERS EP… sometimes it takes time to cultivate a group sound that does justice to the sound in one’s head. Joining Andrew in the studio on these recordings are: Graham Chapman on bass, guitarist Alexander Noise, Joe Sanata Maria and Ted Faforo on saxophones and Stefan Kac on tuba. Laced into this moody wordless music, like a delicious mushroom chocolate, is a humble nudge to look past the decaying fetters of our assumed boundaries and imagine new organizational forms.
Andrew grew up in a suburb of Chicago called Elgin with a single mom who worked as a dental hygienist. With no musicians in the immediate family, his musical awareness came from playing trombone in the middle school band and listening obsessively to Q101 (“Chicago’s Home for Alternative”).
At age eleven, after making fart noises on a rented trombone for a year, he received a $200 Hohner drum kit as a birthday reward, and promptly formed a Nirvana cover band with his buddy Jim. It was a good start, but at age thirteen everything changed. His mother had been fighting cancer for about six years and it spread out of control and took her life. It was decided that he and his sister would leave Illinois to go live with his jazz musician father in San Diego.
It was a painful loss, but dialectically embedded in this loss was opportunity for growth. On the first day of high school, he made fast friends with some punks on the quad who’d also just gotten some instruments, and they started a band called The Irrelevants. Through hardcore punk, they learned how to channel teen angst into volume and speed. They wore ugly homemade clothing, hated the government, smoked weed out of apples, and booked quite a bit of DIY shows.
At the same time, his dad was a professional gigging musician and his home was a constant hangout for many of the great players in the San Diego scene. His dad’s record collection confronted him with the confusing sounds of Miles’ “Kind of Blue”, Ornette’s “Shape of Jazz to Come”, Coltrane’s “Giant Steps”, and Art Blakey’s “Freedom Rider”. These sounds were incredible, and his dad was there to help demystify it. Within a year of obsessively drumming along to those records on the same $200 Hohner kit, he started sitting in at his dad’s gigs, booking gigs of his own, and picking up lessons from local legends like Charles McPherson.
One of his dad’s friends, drummer and educator Duncan Moore, thought he would benefit from attending UCSD’s summer jazz camp, so he pulled a few strings to squeeze him in last minute. Since all lessons with the drum faculty were full, he was randomly given a lesson with Wadada Leo Smith, the iconoclast composer and trumpeter who in the 60s helped start the AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians). From this very first meeting, he permanently broke Andrew’s brain and got him thinking about composition. His advice on thinking beyond rhythm, melody and harmony to make creative use of musical form was like jumping from 3D to 4D. Andrew spent the next year shedding for college audition tapes and he ended up following Wadada to the California Institute of the Arts in Los Angeles.