Sunday, May 3, 2015

Connected by Rhythm

By now, most people know Steve Coleman, his various groups, his continuous of the relationship of the body to music, and, of course, his 3-decades old M-Base Collective.

For Mr. Coleman's new CD, "Synovial Joints" (Pi Recordings), he has returned to his Council of Balance (last heard on 1998's "Genesis & The Opening of The Way") - the new recording features up to 21 musicians, including vocalist Jen Shyu and 6 members of the contemporary classic group, the Talea Ensemble. Also on board are current members of his Five Elements group plus other frequent collaborators and a 4-percussion section.

Now well into his 4th decade of creating music, Mr. Coleman's alto saxophone sound is quite recognizable.  Like another famous Coleman (Ornette), he sounds like himself in any sized-group or musical situation, phrases cascading out of the instrument, a melodic yet percussive style that has its roots in both Charlie Parker and the afore-mentioned Ornette.  His solos have a dancing as well as a conversational quality, leaping atop the rhythms (ably supplied on the new recording by Marcus Gilmore) and the various combinations of strings, brass and reeds.

In his research, Steve Coleman investigated the synovial joints of the human body (defined as "...bounded by a fibrous capsule whose inner membrane secretes a viscous lubricating liquid (synovia), thus allowing a wide range of motion", for example those found in the elbows, knees and shoulders.  The composer/arranger applied his study of how these joints move to create this music, how the sounds move fluidly through each of the 10 tracks, whether playing the themes, the rhythms, or around the soloists. Often in this music, the guitar of Miles Okazaki is used as part of the  percussion section, his "clicking" lines audible above the congas and trap set. On "Harmattan", he plays counterpoint to the berimbau of Nei Sacramento. On the same track, one gets a great example of he composer's musical intentions when the trumpet solo of Jonathan Finlayson is followed by a long series of phrases played the piccolo, alto saxophone and trumpet supported by the echoing strings.  Ms. Shyu's voice stands out on the "multi-cultural" stew of "Celtic Cells", a ballad that slowly builds on the lovely circular melody until the leader steps on a long solo that moves in to and away from the main theme. 

It is tempting to describe every track but the best advice is to listen to this music and draw your own conclusions.  Sit and let the sounds wash over you; close your eyes and follow the paths that Steve Coleman creates with the long, sinewy, melodies and the varying streams of "beats".  Listen to how the different sections move in and out of the sound spectrum. Celebrate the rhythms of this music, rhythms born in Africa, South America, the Middle East and brought to the United States to swirl into the melting pot that became and continues to be Black Music.  "Synovial Joints" is truly music that dances, dances through your body and mind in ways that delight and satisfy.  For more information, go to

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