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Steve Lehman: Mise en Abîme

Dan Bilawsky By

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There's much ado about the co-mingling of styles, languages, and genres in saxophonist Steve Lehman's music. A good amount of what's been written about his work has focused on his use of spectral music techniques and live electronics, the specially-made microtonal vibraphone that Chris Dingman plays, and the way Lehman mixes it all together to create his own brand of creative music. It's completely understandable that those would be the talking points, but the music really speaks for itself.

On Mise en Abîme, the follow-up to the Steve Lehman Octet's widely acclaimed Travail, Transformation, and Flow (Pi Recordings, 2009), Lehman creates music that's at once penetrative and peculiar, appealing and challenging, and combustible and coherent. Hearing the way the clang, clamor and color of Dingman's vibraphone runs along the rhythmic avenues paved by drummer Tyshawn Sorey ("13 Colors"), observing Jose Davila's ping-ponging tuba support beneath the hustle and bustle ("Glass Enclosure Transcription"), and zoning in on a squawking congress of horns are just a few of the voyeuristic treats that put the ears on sensory overload throughout the course of this album.

Lehman's music can be incredibly dicey and complex, but there's in inexplicably agreeable aspect to much of it. "Autumn Interlude," for example, is dark and devious at the start, but momentum and interlocking ideals help to brighten up the picture. That piece, like virtually everything else on the album, is the aural equivalent of a rush of blood to the head. Much of this music is built around the symbiotic-cum-independent relationships that exist between Sorey, Dingman, Davila, and bassist Drew Gress, and the way those four play against the horns, acting as independent entities or working as a team. That very concept might not seem novel, yet Lehman manages to make it so.

If we exist in an age when truly original musical thought is really on the brink of extinction, as many often claim, then nobody bothered to tell Steve Lehman; he's a sui generis sonic sculptor.

Track Listing: Segregated and Sequential; 13 Colors; Glass Enclosure Transcription; Codes: Brice Wassy; Autumn Interlude; Beyond All Limits; Chimer/Luchini; Parisian Thoroughfare Transcription.

Personnel: Steve Lehman: alto saxophone, electronics; Mark Shim: tenor saxophone; Jonathan Finlayson: trumpet; Tim Albright: trombone; Chris Dingman: vibraphone; Jose Davila: tuba; Drew Gress: bass; Tyshawn Sorey: drums.

Title: Mise en Abîme | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: Pi Recordings

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