Thursday, June 03, 2010

Steve Coleman and Five Elements - Harvesting Semblances and Affinities (Pi Recordings, 2010)

A provocative blurb on the cover of the latest Jazz Times magazine asks the question: Is Steve Coleman the most influential jazz musician since John Coltrane? For someone so influential, he's been keeping a pretty low profile recording wise, and Pi claims that this is his first record on an American label in nine years. It is certainly worth the wait, as Coleman, playing alto saxophone and writing most of the compositions on this album has put together an ensemble with a very unique sound that is instantly recognizable and very exciting to listen to. He is joined by a core group featuring Jonathan Finlayson on trumpet, Tim Albright on trombone, Jen Shyu on vocals, Thomas Morgan on bass and Tyshawn Sorey on drums. The opening tracks, "Attila 02 (Drawing Ritual)" and "Beba" are fast paced and urgent with complex improvisations. Sorey's strong drumming is the cornerstone to the music, he plays fast and loud but with an unerring sense of rhythm that propels the music along. The lengthy "060706-2319 (Middle of Water)" unfolds like a suite with saxophone and trumpet swirling around each other, giving way to horn like vocal improvisation, and a probing saxophone and drum interlude. Dramatically shifting to a full band collective improvisation, the band increases the tempo in a strong and confident manner to an impressive conclusion. Shyu is the focus of the unusual "Flos Ut Rosa Floruit" which gives a classical and/or operatic sensibility with her yearning vocals matched by fine trumpet. Shyu is really a wonder to listen to on this recording. The music is quite complex and very full, but still she manages to not only hold her own, but to thrive as an improviser equal to any of the other instruments. "Attila 04 (Closing Ritual)" is a fast and energetic short performance featuring quick, short solos taken in an exciting fashion over excellent bass and drum work. "Vernal Equinox 040320-0149 (Initiation)" closes the album with a choppy improvisation with vocals soaring and scatting overhead, and then riffing under a nice bass solo, making for a cool and unusual sound. Everybody comes back together for a fast collectively improvised conclusion. Much of the music on the album as explained by the liner notes is deeply mathematical and draws on astrology for inspiration. But this complexity doesn't detract from the enjoyment from the music in any way. Steve Coleman is forging his own individual path in jazz, and it is understandable why young musicians are so inspired by his sound and philosophy. Harvesting Semblances and Affinities - amazon.con

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