Label/Year: Pi Recordings, 2017
Lineup – Steve Coleman: alto saxophone; Jonathan Finalyson: trumpet; Maria Grand: tenor saxophone; Rane Moore: clarinet; Kristin Lee: violin; Jen Shyu: vocals; Matt Mitchell: piano; Greg Chudzik: bass; Neeraj Mehta: percussion.
On today’s scene, only very few musicians can be proud of following their own musical instincts and still generate a style that is very much their own. American alto saxophonist and composer Steve Coleman is undeniably one of those. A glance at his career reveals defying aesthetics, laudable eclecticism, staggering arrangements, and a scrupulous technique that makes his saxophone speak volumes.
He just keeps getting better with the age. Hence, if Synovial Joint, composed for a large ensemble, was one of the best albums if not the best of 2015, his brand new Morphogenesis, also released on Pi Recordings, is a serious candidate for that title again.
In his new all-star ensemble, Natal Eclipse, Coleman catches up with some regular members of The Five Elements and The Council of Balance groups, as well as two great new additions, cases of percussionist Neeraj Mehta, who plays on five tracks, and the highly sought-after pianist Matt Mitchell.
The percussion-less “Inside Game” provides an excellent overture with Greg Chudzik and Mitchell assuring the tune’s heartbeat. They are joined by the frontliners’ intervallic infiltrations, Kristin Lee’s abrasive violin strokes, and Jen Shyu’s finesse vocalizations. It’s all about this organic conjunction that expands ecstatically and makes us thirsty to discover more about the textural consciousness that reigns in the group.
“Pull Counter” uses a specific phrase as a motive and places it over a malleable bass flow that occasionally swings, especially when Coleman and trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson improvise. In turn, Mitchell’s gut reaction is as much lyrical as rhythmically audacious.
Mehta’s percussive spells play a strategic role not only on “NOH” and “SPAN”, two spontaneous and floatingly counterpointed improvisations, but especially on “Shoulder Roll” whose sensuous exoticism is fully cooked in the company of Chudzik’s grooves. This bonhomie also offers unisons delivered with pinpoint accuracy, as well as short but intrepid improvisations.
With “Morphing”, Coleman conjures up a sort of Baroque dance where the sobriety of classical music blends with the mischief of jazz. Embracing sleekness and dodging obstacles, this tune rushes into shifting counterpoint and smart polyphony whenever the horn collective is not acting as one. And what a force has the voice of Ms. Shyu here!
Coleman’s sophistication of speech is well patented on “Dancing and Jabbing”, a piece that is poetry for the ears. It also reflects the refined musicianship of the band members, who call up for their own space as they keep creating on top of an incandescent coalition.
The record closes with “Horda”, a pungent orchestration holding magical African pulses and angular melodic traits. The swaggering movements and hasty verbalizations also bring classical influences to the table while every player searches and fetches.
The connectedness of the nine tunes in Morphogenesis becomes fundamental to achieve a cohesive whole. It’s an indestructible relationship between structure, unity, and improvisation.
Less dense or polyrhythmic than previous works, this is a deluxe Coleman that enters directly to the top picks of the year.
01 – Inside Game ► 05 – Morphing ► 09 – Horda