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Friday, November 7, 2014

Steve Lehman - Mise en Abime (Pi Recordings, 2014) *****

By Stefan Wood

Mise en Abime is the latest effort by the Steve Lehman Octet, an uptempo, aural feast that is gripping from start to finish.  A follow up to the excellent Pi album Travail, Transformation and Flow, the group, consisting of Mark Shim (tenor sax), Drew Gress (bass), Tyshawn Sorey (drums), Jonathan Finlayson (trumpet), Jose Davila (tuba), Tim Albright (trombone), and Chris Dingman (vibraphone) put forth their finest effort to date with eight blistering tracks that employ Lehman's studies into spectral harmonics and free jazz improvisation.

"Segregated and Sequential" starts off on a quiet note, a sax solo that then erupts into the full ensemble playing, establishing an off key theme that allows for individual soloing.  Vibes are dominant, almost acerbic, but is also spatial and deeply powerful.  Throughout the album it holds its own amongst the brass section.  Lehman acknowledges the influence of the vibes from the Jackie McLean Blue Note albums with Bobby Hutcherson; Dingman's efforts are exceedingly fine and the sound is a key highlight in listening to the album.  There are three tracks that are reworkings of Bud Powell tunes:  "Autumn Interlude," "Beyond All Limits," and "Parisian Thoroughfare Transcription," the latter track an emotionally charged synthesis of Lehman playing piano, Powell himself being interviewed, a sample of Powell playing piano, with a sax soloing on top.  "Codes-Brice Wassy" is another highlight, with Lehman/Shim and Dingman beginning with a moody duet, with Finlayson bursting in, replacing the vibes and engaging in a long solo, staccato like, and finally the others kick in, Sorey providing very active drums, vibes gently coursing through the beats and the horn solos, all very upbeat, the interplay of horns soloing and then locking in together as accents. "Beyond all Limits" is another high energy track.  Sorey unleashes a frenetic backbeat, a storm in which again the vibes glides over as counterpoint.  The horns all alternate, complimenting the drums with succinct solos, then deliver a well synchronized front section of rapid fire notes, alternating beats, accented by brief pauses. "Chimera- Luccini" features Sorey and Dingman, as the drums launch into high tempo gear, delivering a frantic pace, matched by an active vibe work, as they engage in a long duet.  Horns kick in, going back and forth between saxes as they punch out an awesome theme on top of the rhythm section, vibes leading the way, horns accenting the beat and providing counterpoint.

Mise en Abime rocks from start to finish, and should be considered one of the finest albums released this year.  It gets my highest recommendation.