Steve Coleman and Five Elements

New York, New York, US
Artist / Band / Musician
The indefatigable Steve Coleman constantly learns, studies, observes… the behavior of bees, Egyptology, symbolism, mathematics. He rubs shoulders with philosophers, yogis, discovers daily life in Java, where he resides part of the year, questions Anthony Braxton, Von Freeman and Sonny Rollins, from whom he formally requested an interview. He relentlessly studies the language of Charlie Parker, the life of Art Tatum. He also listens to young musicians—in New York, where he organizes workshops at the Jazz Gallery, but also in Cuba, Ghana, India, Egypt—everywhere he wanders in the world…

At the moment, his peregrinations have led him to Brazil. He brought along Magic Malik, knowing that he adds an essential bit of soul to his music, also Sarah Murcia, the bassist of his group. Also along for the ride is Nelson Veras, one of the best-kept secrets of the music world, a guitarist of inexhaustible resources. Steve Coleman encountered him in Paris, at one of Malik’s concerts, but did not show any particular interest in him then. However, one year later, he tracked him down and proposed that he record Weaving Symbolics with him— proof, if any was needed, that the man follows through.

Right from the beginning of his incredible career path, Steve Coleman persistently sought to learn from others, from the world, from nature, and to transmit that knowledge, share his discoveries, his quest. Well before they imagined their paths would cross, each of his travel companions had made themselves familiar, each in their own way, with the music of this Chicago saxophonist. The fact that today he brought them together to regenerate his music is a logical step for a man who bases his existence on the circulation of ideas and energy.

The week before the recording sessions, the rehearsals were intense, each with its “bug,” considering the extraordinary complexity of the harmonies and rhythms. During these sessions, they discovered, thanks to Steve’s computer, the sound of the planets rotating around the earth, as well as a host of other mysteries that the impassioned musician delights in sharing.

The first day, things were pretty chaotic and unexpected. It was certainly an interesting encounter: French and American musicians met with three young Brazilians, from 18 to 28 years of age, who don’t speak a word of English and can barely read music. In spite of insistent demands, Coleman did not furnish any preliminary scores or music. So everyone arrived in a spirit of anticipation, having no idea of what would be asked of him, conscious however, of the challenges of apprehending the language of the saxophonist. He submitted little trickles of compositions, a few ideas, observed their reactions, but right up to the day before entering the studio, the musicians only had the vaguest of ideas about what they were actually going to record. Sometimes, during the studio sessions, Coleman would disappear into his bedroom to compose. He would then submit the fruit of his work a few hours later to his apprehensive and somewhat disconcerted team. Nevertheless, the material began to take shape. Each person isolated themselves to understand and interpret it, and they all got together later in the day to compare notes and share their thoughts. Under the encouraging eye of the composer, the music slowly took shape and, from the initial chaos emerged a collective sound and an unforeseen interpretation of original ideas.

This indefatigable saxophonist constantly observes, takes notes, and inspiration from the perceptions of the others, from their sound and their history. In the filmed interview—conceived as a rough, spontaneous documentary—that accompanies this double CD, he says, “Jeff Watts, with whom we recorded a few pieces as a trio for this new album, along with bassist Eric Revis, has a grounding in tradition that Malik does not have. On the other hand, Malik has a conception of music that is totally foreign to Jeff Watts. That is what interests me. When I proposed this project to Nelson, Sarah and Malik, its content was extremely vague, I had done some preliminary sketches but nothing was really composed yet.” Although Coleman lets his intuition guide him in certain aspects, his music is the result of deep reflection, on this album in particular, that extends to his ordering a suite so that the pieces are symmetrical responses and the compositions are directly inspired by mathematics, astrology and also numerology. “There’s nothing new about that… Bach and Schoenberg have been doing it. I also worked with numerological principles for Coltrane’s music, there is so much to express…”

Steve Coleman's compositional techniques are largely inspired by those of "classical" composers and include mirrored or inverted melodic ideas, work with intervals, fugues, etc.

Still, the saxophonist admits to creating music that was destined more to be felt than to be listened to…

In a remarkable fifteen-minute sequence, Coleman renders a heartfelt homage to Charlie Parker, performing a duo with the incredible nineteen-year-old drummer Marcus Gilmore, grandson of Roy Haynes. Here you can hear the impressive spectrum of stunning sophistication, primal energy, mastery and abandon that characterize this unique musician. Over and over, Coleman scats, sings and plays with the force of a boxer and the liveliness and grace of a juggler.

Listening to this new opus, and viewing the documentary showing the way Coleman works begins to give one an idea of the incredible vitality that he generates on the music scene. Amongst other things, one discerns an extraordinary blend of knowledge with a touching naiveté—a quality seen amongst all genuine seekers of every stripe, along with the mastery of an impressive amount of data to create a solid foundation, combined with a sufficiently open mind, receptivity to new ideas, and the willingness to question conventional wisdom.

A new adventure into previously uncharted territories, Weaving Symbolics offers music that has the rare and audacious ambition of combining reflection and intuition, composition and improvisation, mathematics and poetry, the articulated and the intangible.
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