Saturday, July 19, 2014

Steve Lehman Octet - Mise en Abîme (Pi Recordings, 2014)

Alto saxophonist, composer and researcher Steve Lehman is one of the most consistently interesting musicians on the modern jazz scene. Using aspects of spectral harmony, combined with jazz and improvisational techniques he makes music that is both haunting and exciting and perhaps most admirably, quite accessible. He is aided in this task by an exceptional cast of musicians: Mark Shim on tenor saxophone, Drew Gress on bass, Tyshawn Sorey on drums, Jonathan Finlayson on trumpet, Jose Davila on tuba, Tim Albright on trombone, and Chris Dingman on vibraphone. The music avoids most of the conventions of traditional jazz where the melody is followed by individual solos, instead moving in a much more organic direction where soloists drift in and out and full band passages frame the solo opportunities. Lehman has a wonderfully sharp saxophone tone that allows him to slice like a sword through the complicated music of "Thirteen Colors" as well as the opener "Segregated and Sequential" which builds from a quiet beginning to a boiling pace. Vibraphonist Chris Dingman is particularly interesting throughout this album, as his his instrument frames the music and also interacts in away that is akin to Bobby Hutcherson's role on Eric Dolphy's classic Out to Lunch LP. Lehman studied with the great bebop alto saxophonist Jackie McLean quite a bit, and bebop, albeit in a very personalized form, is at the core of much of his music. Using this, he anchors the album to three compositions by the great bebop pianist Bud Powell and uses transcriptions of "Glass Enclosure", "Parisian Thoroughfare" and "Autumn Interlude". Playing these compositions in this eight piece postmodern configuration sheds new light not only on Powell's music but on Lehman's conception of music as a whole. It grounds the music in jazz while showing that Lehman's musical theory, however esoteric it may seem, can take any musical material and spin it into something special. Mise En Abime -

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