Review: Steve Lehman Octet’s knotty ‘Mise en Abime’ forges a new path


Typically, music is a lot easier to hear than explain. Consider alto saxophonist Steve Lehman. Holding a doctorate in composition from Columbia University, Lehman is a dazzling talent with a compact tone and expansive ambitions that created one of 2009’s most acclaimed albums, “Travail, Transformation and Flow.”

Built on a musical approach called spectral harmonies (“Otherworldly sonorities that are created through the precise juxtaposition of individual instrumental voices,” according to the album’s release -- sure, if you say so). Lehman’s methods may not be immediately easy to grasp on paper, but setting aside the back story, “Mise en Abîme” speaks for itself.

Lehman’s taut sound moves with a zigzagging clarity that can sound chilly, even futuristic, but the record’s blood is carried by drummer Tyshawn Sorey, who unleashes a small orchestra of rhythm under the octet’s every move. Framed by vibraphonist Chris Dingman and a sighing chorus of horns, “13 Colors” percolates atop Lehman’s twisting runs, and “Codes: Brice Wassy” begins with a murmur before taking wing atop rising star trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson.


“Autumn Interlude” carries the intricate pulse of late ‘90s post-rock before centering on a duel between Lehman and fellow saxophonist Mark Shim, and “Beyond All Limits” combines the breakneck pace of drum and bass with swerving horns that point toward an otherworldly next level of post-bop. Like much of the record, it sounds like something moving forward fast. No other explanation is really needed.

Steve Lehman Octet
“Mise en Abîme”
3.5 stars
Pi Recordings

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