Passion is occasionally missing in the complex music of saxophonist Steve Coleman, but precision has forever got its back. The swirl of polyphony at the center of the middle-aged saxophonist’s strategies is notable for its focus. The instruments often exclaim simultaneously, but rarely does their friction become messy. Counterpoint defines any Coleman ensemble, and on The Mancy of Sound (Pi) every member of the octet makes his or her own spark.
This rigorous process can sound like popcorn popping. Two of the era’s most exacting and propulsive trap drummers, Tyshawn Sorey and Marcus Gilmore, interact with hand percussionist Ramon Garcia Perez to form a nexus of beats. Through this, trumpet, trombone, bass, and voice do an intricate zigzag. Some of the grooves feel like they’ve been reflected in a fun house mirror. Some of them sound like they’ve been concocted at a calculus seminar. Most have a warped spin on trad precision. On “Water-Oyeku (Odu Ifa suite)” the melody slips while the thrust slides. Coleman, who sometimes explains his work by alluding to lunar phases as well as I-Ching trigrams, has previously likened his soloing efforts to the movements of clouds in the sky.
A couple pieces – deemed “Formation 1” and “Formation 2” – operate without rhythm section support, yet lose little of the oomph that marks the album’s other tracks. Ultimately, they have a fugue-like atmosphere, with lines darting in and out of the foreground. A few moments of Mancy (a term which alludes to the practice of foretelling future events) are disorienting, but in the large, the program is truly engaging, and at its best – on the “Noctiluca (Jan 11),” say – it’s a whirlwind you’ll likely want to submit to again and again.