Tag Archives: steve coleman

Steve Coleman @ Shapeshifter Lab Tonight

The alto saxophonist has become a guru to many up and comers. His idiosyncratic rhythm concepts, his architectural caginess on the horn – it adds up to one of jazz’s most singular personalities. Whether he’s leading a workshop of acolytes or tearing ass through set of tunes with his 5 Elements band, he’s a guy who naturally captivates.


Get Your Mancy On

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.

Newport Jazz Festival 2011


FORT JAZZ – Saturday

Went to see Steve Coleman & the Five Elements a couple weeks ago, and as usual the revered alto saxophonist demonstrated just how far precision can take a jazz band, which is pretty damn far. There’s math in Coleman’s ever-evolving music; several tunes on the new The Mancy of Sound (Pi) have the kind of counterpoint action that makes you think a slide rule was involved in the composing process. But because the leader views most everything through a rhythmic lens, the action of the bass, drums, piano, guitar and vocals takes on a hyper percolation. Drummer Marcus Gilmore, a one of the most fascinating percussionists at work these days, has a deep connection with Coleman’s jagged riffs. The sparks are definitely going to fly when they hit the Harbor Stage at the first full day of the Newport Jazz Festival. Five Elements are one of several impressive ensembles to take over Fort Adams this weekend. It’s another well-curated program for the Fest this year, with an array of perspectives being offered. The first band you need to put on today’s must-see list Mostly Other People Do the Killing. The New York quartet is a wiseacre outfit with a deep blend of concept and chops. Their rambunctious freebop is built on a manic esprit that’s proud of its entertainment skills. The Coimbra Concert (Clean Feed) which captures them at their high-flying best, conjures the eruptions of Mingus, humor of Raymond Scott, and of the boisterous beauty of the Art Ensemble, ably placing them in a deeply creative continuum. Ambrose Akinmusire is another young phenom to catch. When The Heart Emerges Glistening (Blue Note) is a serious date that stresses interplay over all else. The trumpet newcomer has a wide angle world view, with influences stretching from Chopin to Flying Lotus, and his ballads implode with poignancy while his rave-ups put passion in the center of their squall. No wonder Wynton Marsalis was part of the applauding audience when Akinmusire premiered his disc in New York this spring. Speaking of the trumpet titan, he too, will bring his terrific quintet to the Fort’s stage. They are, in a word, killing – agile, inspired, refined and rambunctious. Speaking of kicking up some dust, Randy Weston’s piano can also be placed in that category. The lanky pianist makes judiciousness seem like the most valuable element of performance, which gives his shows a deep focus, but doesn’t mean everything’s measured. When Weston strikes that keyboard, he means it – trills turn as many heads as rumbles. His African Rhythms Trio has a regal air, generating trance qualities that boast a bit of majesty. Regina Carter’s Reverse Thread ensemble also harks to African sources, using folk music pulses in an enticing way, with the mesh of accordion, bass, guitar and the leader’s virtuosic violin uniting in a swirl. Lots of other enticing shows await as well, like Esperanza Spalding’s duet gig with various artists. Be prepared to roam the grounds; there are lots of great options.


Prepare thyself to deal with the beauty of the saxophone at today’s Newport Jazz Festival: It’s a day of resounding horn players. The seductive murmur of Charles Lloyd’s tenor has never sounded better than it has in the last several years. His ECM work has trumped his Atlantic sides in terms of eloquence and legacy. His Sangam trio with trap drummer Eric Harland and tabla virtuoso Zakir Hussain puts his sax lines in a revealing setting. Their luminous arcs usually ride a groove that becomes quite enchanting as the momentum builds. Joshua Redman also has a glow to his solos, too. Earlier this summer I watched his current band James Farm turn the tunes from their impressive Nonesuch debut into vehicles for deep interplay. Along with bassist Matt Penman and pianist Aaron Parks, percussionist Harland is part of the collective outfit, and his incessant drive helped Redman achieve liftoff time after time. There’s also plenty of thrust behind alto master Miguel Zenon, who brings the music from his new Alma Adentro (Marsalis Music) to the stage. The program contains updates of classic pieces from the Puerto Rican songbook arranged for jazz quartet and a woodwind tentet led by the celebrated bandleader Guillermo Klein. Zenon is one of those guys who makes your jaw drop, and his foursome can be unusually telepathic when it comes to rounding corners and negotiating intersections. Rudresh Mahanthappa was recently named “Alto Saxophonist of the Year” by DownBeat magazine, and deservedly so. The fire and focus that comes from the bandleader’s ax is daunting. His collaboration with alto elder Bunky Green had more than a little to do with the victory, of course. The critically championed Apex (Pi) finds the pair exchanging volley after volley, as they will on the Newport stage. Green, a patriarch of the Chicago scene, has inspired Mahanthappa for ages. Their collaboration is an insightful intergenerational exchange. Steve Coleman is another Bunky acolyte. Intriguingly, he’s also a mentor to Zenon; methinks there will be lots of high-flying spirits when Coleman, Miguel, and Ravi Coltrane set up shop in front of a mic in a sax summit situation. Coltrane is a resourceful soprano and tenor player who has been forging an engaging persona during the last few years. I particularly like the way he treats Monk, with a bit of roughness, the kind of push and shove that the master’s tunes can stand up to. Last time I caught his working band, they sliced and diced “Epistrophy” like zen swordsmen. One final sax hero? Tony Malaby. He’ll be part of John Hollenbeck’s Large Ensemble, and when he gets the green light to take one of the percussionist/bandleader’s charts to the next level, watch out: the honking and wailing become one, and the poetic expressionism of his lines moves right to the forefront. Hollenbeck’s crew is remarkable in general. They just won DownBeat’s best big band designation thanks to the clever designs found on Eternal Interlude (Sunnyside), a record that defines what ensemble work can be in the modern era. Make sure to arrive on time to absorb their wallop. It could be tough choice for large ensemble lovers, actually . The Mingus Big Band, a group that has been delivering the raucous beauty of the maestro’s book for decades now, has plenty of whomp as well. Otherwise, trumpeter Avishai Cohen’s outfit, bassist Esperanza Spalding’s ensemble, and a pianist by the name of Dave Brubeck should all tickle you plenty.





Five Must-See Bands at the 2011 Newport Jazz Festival

It’s coming up fast, and as veteran’s know, you have to have your map laid out in front of you if you want to catch all the good stuff. Which there’s plenty of, by the way – this is another well-curated program for the Fort Adams affair. Ambrose Akinmusire, Randy Weston, Miguel Zenon – there are lots of big talents taking the stage in Newport (check this wider list). Here are five groups that need to be circled in advance. Grab a ticket and head to the Ocean State this weekend. Can’t make it? The heroes at NPR bring it to your ear-buds (donate to your local station this year!).  Here’s the Spotify list

1. John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble

Wow, a working big band. Meaning they may have charts in front of them, but they play often enough to bring a true immediacy to the table – there’s always lift-off when they take the stage. That’s key, because the percussionist-composer’s detailed pieces sound best when all the nuances are being appreciated. The title track from Eternal Interlude (Sunnyside) offers flashes of swing-based history and allusions to pulse-driven minimalism, and the subtleties need to be attended to. The who’s who of NYC improvisers that comprise the outfit usually do their boss proud.

2. Steve Coleman & Five Elements

Can a band be simultaneously skittish and stable? Coleman’s rigorous M-BASE antics – an amalgam of precise zig-zag melody lines and intricate cross-rhythms – offers a resounding “hell, yeah.” Led by the  revered alto saxophonist, they’re one of the most self-assured outfits you’ll ever see, exploding the concept of counterpoint, stressing individuality while proffering collectivism, and making the funk woof in an idiosyncratic way. Saw them last month, and was reminded of one thing: their precision is devastating.

3. Wynton Marsalis 

He has a way of making raucous and rowdy morph into sweet and sultry, and if you’ve seen his small ensemble of late, you might agree: his version of swing encompasses so many of jazz’s outre impulses it’s impossible to mistake how widely inclusive his approach actually is at this late date. Terrific musicianship and judicious sense of experimentation? I’ll take it over one-dimensional radicalism any day.

4. Mostly Other People Do the Killing

Trumpeter Peter Evans, saxophonist Jon Irabagon, drummer Kevin Shea, and drummer-composer Moppa Elliott have been together long enough to let their cohesion be represented by swagger. The cover art of their latest disc sticks out its tongue at Keith Jarrett’s The Koln Concert – a wealth of deep thoughts that finds the pianist judiciously gauging each note. Cagey and cavalier, MOPDTK has a blast plopping a cream pie in the face of such sobriety, romping through their sets with an agitated informality. Their rambunctious freebop is built on a manic esprit that’s proud of its entertainment skills.

5. Apex: Rudresh Mahanthappa & Bunky Green

Twenty five years ago, Steve Coleman hit NYC talking Bunky Green, Bunky Green, Bunky Green. The 70-something educator is an idiosyncratic alto man who bends the norm to suit his needs and comes away with solos that burst with singularity. Ten years ago Mahanthappa, himself a singular alto firebrand, also stressed BG’s skills in conversation. Now they’re a wily intergenerational front line, winning accolades for their fervent exchanges and clocking critical awards for the very impressive debut disc, a record that storms in several different ways while wafting strains of South Indian music into the mix.


25 Jazz Albums That Just Might Make It To The “End of the Year” Lists – 2011 Edition

Every summer, around June 1 because that the anum’s half-way point, I’ve been taking the temperature vis a vis the records that will make the end-of-the-year lists. Which titles are vying for inclusion? Which are the definite front-runners? It’s an old link-baiting strat. We all love our horse races and we all love our listicles. Okay, so we’re a couple weeks late this month. Blame the busy June Jazz rush (which ain’t over yet).  Here are 25 discs that keep buzzing around my head. Wonder which will make the cut? Any you’d like to weigh in on? Sure there are…

Gerald Cleaver’s Uncle June,  Be It As I See It (Fresh Sound)

Walter/Halvorson/Evans, Electric Fruit (Thirsty Ear)

Brad Mehldau, Live In Marciac (Nonesuch)

Noah Preminger, Before the Rain (Palmetto)

Orrin Evans, Captain Black Big Band (Posi-Tone)

Kermit Driscoll, Reveille (19/8)

Jeff “Tain” Watts, Family (Dark Keys)

Fred Hersch, Alone At the Vanguard (Palmetto)

Muhal Richard Abrams, Sound Dance (Pi)

Eric Harland, Voyager (Space Time)

JD Allen Trio, Victory! (Sunnyside)

Tim Berne, Insomnia (Clean Feed)

Colin Stetson, New History Warfare II (Constellation)

Russ Lossing Trio, Oracle (HatOLOGY)

Mostly Other People Do The Killing, The Coimbra Concert (Clean Feed)

Craig Taborn, Avenging Angel (ECM)

Ben Allison, Action-Refraction (Palmetto)

Orchestre National de Jazz, Shut Up And Dance (Bee Jazz)

Jeremy Udden’s Plainville, If The Past Looks So Bright (Sunnyside)

BB&C, The Veil (Cryptogramophone)

Joe Lovano, Bird Songs (Blue Note)

Bruce Barth Trio, Live At Smalls (Smalls Live)

Konitz/Mehldau/Haden/Motion, Live at Birdland (ECM)

Black/Dunn/Noriega/Speed, Endangered Blood (Skirl)

Ambrose Akinmusire, When the Heart Emerges Glistening (Blue Note)

Steve Coleman & Five Elements, The Mancy of Sound (Pi)

Harris Eisenstadt, Canada Day II (Clean Feed)

Farmers By Nature, Out of This World’s Distortions (AUM Fidelity)

A visit to the comments section of A Blog Supreme’s mid-year litmus test reminded me that Joe Fiedler’s Sacred Chrome Orb (Yellow Sound) should be on the list above as well.

Five Don’t-Miss Shows @ Winter Jazzfest

You’ll be schmoozing with people and chat too long; you’ll be so rapt by one particular act that you’ll space on seeing another; or you’ll be arriving way too late to cram into one of the five cozy venues that comprise this weekend’s  Winter Jazzfest bash.  So: you’ll need a plan to wade through all that competition (over 60 acts are hitting this year). Here are five ensembles that warrant a bit of pushing and shoving.

Orrin Evans’ Captain Black Big Band:

The Philly pianist fine-tuned his large ensemble at his home base’s Chris’ Cafe, and by the time they recorded their forthcoming disc,  they had a tight grip on very physical material Evans put together. This is a group that lets it blast, whether grooming the sound in a wall of consonance, or erupting in an exquisite frenzy.

Mike Pride’s From Bacteria To Boys:

The energy always starts with the trap set in this muscular foursome. Drummer Pride is a fountain of ideas, stuffing lots of sound into his tunes. On 2010’s way impressive Betweenwhile (AUM Fidelity), the group proves that a measured approach can also build towards climatic moments. As a matter of fact, saxophonist Darius Jones is an expert at exactly that, taking his steely alto lines from refined to raging in a just a moment or two.

Steve Coleman’s Five Elements:

At last year’s affair, before the killer Harvesting Semblances And Affinities (Pi) was released, a clutch of critics stood together and chuckled out loud at how deeply interactive the saxophonist’s group became after just five or so minutes. Black science, indeed. They’re radically tight, so this dizzyingly intricate music doesn’t get away from ’em for a sec. The cross-hatched melodies, the kaleidoscopic rhythms – it all adds up to masterful ensemble ethic.

Kirk Knuffke Quartet:

Sometimes it seems that the trumpeter – who is becoming ubiquitous on the NYC scene with lots of work with Matt Wilson’s Quartet, Ideal Bread, and other recombinant local outfits – wants to see how wide a variety of sound his horn is capable of. But all his lines have have  purpose, and the fanciful freebop that he hops through on Bigwig (Clean Feed) has plenty of direction to it. His mates for this weekend’s romp are trombonist Brian Dye, bassist Mark Helias, and drummer Jeff Davis – each knows how to be both slippery and smart. Oh, and that’s a cornet the leader will be blowing.

Noah Preminger Quartet:

I dig his Ornette obsession, and applaud his judicious ballad choices. But I’m still trying to figure out how this sharp new(ish) tenor player can be both a staunch romantic and a skilled outcat at such a young age. A long listen to his forthcoming Before The Rain (Palmetto) will help explain things. It’s plush and piercing and plenty impressive.

Here’s the Voice blab.

Oh, the folks at A Blog Supreme have just thrown another five on the fire.

10 Tiny Thoughts That Synapsed for a Sec During the Undead-a-Thon

Lots of sounds and images flashing by during the weekend. Think I’ll tweet-a-fy a few for expediency:

1. Has Tony Malaby been spending time with this baby right here?

2. Roswell Rudd sure knows how to bring that Adirondack charisma to the stage. “I’m making my coffee now!”

3. Steve Coleman‘s hang fly maneuvers have never given so much room to polyphony – thick sound as negative space.

4. Many humans want to be wherever Dave King is.

5. Tim Lefebvre has, like, four, six, maybe eight hands.

6. There’s lots of swing in Marc Cary‘s left hand, and lots of swing in his drummer’s foot.

7. Ari Hoenig deserves a special prize for wearing that Day of the Dead skull mask on such a hot night.

8. The shorter Big Bull ‘bonist knows how to get some house.

9. Neither rain, nor sleet, nor gloom of night stays Andrew D’Angelo from the completion of his appointed rounds.

10. I miss Steve Lacy.

Five Don’t-Miss Shows At the Undead Jazz Festival

Kicking off the June jazz season, The Undead Festival takes place in the Village this weekend, and like its kissin’ cousin, the Winter JazzFest, it’s a hive of activity that brings 35 acts to stages of (le) Poisson Rouge, Sullivan Hall, and Kenny’s Castaways. Best to make a few must-see choices before you hit the storm. Here’s the Voice blab.

1. Fight the Big Bull

The Virginia big band likes to retreat to clamor when melodies and textural gambits falter, but as their newish All Is Gladness in the Kingdom (Clean Feed) illustrates, they’re becoming more and more eloquent with the spray of sound that they create with such obvious spirit. And dipping into the pop nugget realm, they pull out a nifty spin through The Band’s “Jemima Surrender.”

2. Ideal Bread

The repetitious themes of Steve Lacy‘s music have long had an enchanting quality. Each go-round of the melody lets improvisers dig a bit deeper and set up a somewhat circular dynamic of ideas. Saxophonist Josh Sinton knows the power of Lacy’s puzzles; his quartet is a repertory group, leaping into the master’s book, and reminding listeners that in several cases Lacy himself led blowing bands (the front line of Steve Potts, Irene Aebi, and the soprano saxophonist himself was always ready to let the solos spill forth). On Transmit (Cuneiform) Sinton’s bari mixes with Kurt Knuffke‘s trumpet to do the same – this is curious quartet. The tunes can be conundrums, but they have a fascinating sense of entertainment.

3. John Hollenbeck’s Large Ensemble

The wily drummer’s big band is one of the versatile outfits around, but doesn’t play often enough. Those who caught Hollenbeck at the (le) Poisson Rouge at the end of last year got a great sampling of the group’s clout and eloquence. But he presented three distinct ensembles that night, and I for one could have used more of the precision and creativity that’s found on Eternal Interlude (Sunnyside). This set should boast both.

4. Steve Coleman & Five Elements

In the mid-80s, the alto saxophonist was considered a renegade; these days he’s being positioned as a guru. Lots of upcoming players are smitten with his gripping rhythmic agenda and the hyper maneuvers of his post-bop soloing vocabulary. On the new Harvesting Semblances and Affinities (Pi), the pieces are both skittish and sleek, and the band’s approach to articulation borders on zealous.  Their live shows are few and far between, but watching Coleman lead his associates through his maze can be a powerful experience.

5. Dave King/Tim Berne/Craig Taborn

Three sage improvisers fully taken with the poetry of working in the moment. The Bad Plus drummer is a cross between Keith Moon exclamation and Andrew Cyrille invention. The stalwart alto saxophonist is always on his toes when it comes to sketching his way through a soundscape, and the clever keybster brings an array of acoustelectric textures to table while advancing a deep rhythmic agenda. Making it up as you go is an art form.