Steve Coleman and Five Elements - Live at the Village Vanguard-Vol. 1

Label: Pi Recordings, 2018

Personnel – Steve Coleman: alto saxophone; Jonathan Finlayson: trumpet; Miles Okazaki: electric guitar; Anthony Tidd: electric bass; Sean Rickman: drums.


How infectious and original is the music of M-Base disciple and pioneer Steve Coleman! The alto saxophonist/composer has been a true creative force on the jazz scene for more than three decades, contributing with great recordings where he showcases striking new ways of improvising along with an impressive ability to play with texture and mood.

On the trail of last year's Morphogenesis, orchestrated with the extended Natal Eclipse ensemble, the saxophonist releases the double CD-set Live at the Village Vanguard-Vol. 1 (The Embedded Sets) with his most emblematic group, The Five Elements, featuring Johnathan Finlayson on trumpet, Miles Okazaki on electric guitar, Anthony Tidd on electric bass, and Sean Rickman on drums. 

The band not only brings the necessary tension but also illumination on several tunes of the first set, starting with “Horda” (from the previous album), superiorly driven by a spasmodic rhythm section that underpins powerful staccato notes expelled by the frontline. Coleman overcomes conventions and transcends in an inflamed improvisation before embarking on unison lines with Finlayson, who also gleams in his own idiomatic style.

Full-throttle riffs resonate on “Djw”, inspiring a pressurized funky thrust that never loses intensity. After Okazaki’s congruent exploration, coordinated with timbral perspicacity, Coleman forges ahead in his statements by infusing incredible patterned cadences and steep accentuations. By the end, Rickman puts his flexible percussive technique at the service of the band through colorful attacks.

Slow-moving clouds are gently portrayed on “idHw” and Bunky Green’s “Little Girl I’ll Miss You”, here gradually layered with the sequential addition of drums, guitar, and then bass, flowing with a slightly Latin feel.

Marvelous intricacies and rich details are detectable, even when the groove is primal, like on “twf” or “Figit Time”, a jazz-funk piece written by Doug Hammond. This latter tune keeps bouncing oddly before touching the spiritual with Coltranean inspiration in its final segment. 

Nfr” is a legitimate swinging explosion of avant-funk and neo-bop that convinces and captivates with enraptured sensitivity. It anticipates the arrival of the closing tune, “Change of Guard” (first recorded in 86), where Coleman even scats at a blazing tempo and then slows down the pace to a swinging 4/4 finale.

Even avowing form and structure, the sense of freedom/adventure is everywhere. Coleman excites the listeners, constantly stepping outside comfort zones through unpredictable arrangements suffused with spiraling movements and a free-funk infectiousness that dazzles.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks (first set): 
01 – Horda ► 02 – Djw ► 07 - Nfr

Ambrose Akinmusire - A Rift in Decorum

Label/Year: Blue Note, 2017

Lineup – Ambrose Akinmusire: trumpet; Sam Harris: piano; Harish Raghavan: bass; Justin Brown: drums.


Trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire has only four albums under his belt but his influence in the current jazz panorama is tremendous. A skillful composer, Akinmusire has also put a lot of his musical talent on projects of likes such as David Binney, Esperanza Spalding, Roy Hargrove, Jack DeJohnette, and Tom Harrell.

A Rift in Decorum: Live at the Village Vanguard, a double-disc quartet session that contains only original compositions, was recorded at the cited emblematic New York venue in the company of pianist Sam Harris, bassist Harish Raghavan, and drummer Justin Brown.

The disc one opens and closes with phenomenal masterstrokes. “Maurice & Michael (Sorry I Didn't Say Hello)” makes a great starting point, blooming with urgency and triumphantly demarcating the post-bop territory with stimulating clashes of color. The trumpeter speaks an attractive, modern jazz idiom, articulating his statements with exquisite intervallic engagement. Right after him, the risk-taking Harris juggles with notes and chords to produce imaginative polychromatic effects. The prominent rhythmic foundation doesn’t abstain from the freedom that becomes visible again on the closing tune, “Trumpet Sketch (Milky Pete)”, a metrically daring avant-garde shake with kinetic improvisations. The steam is constantly under pressure, especially during an unaccompanied head-to-head between trumpet and drums.

On “Response”, the title is taken seriously once the pianist responds to the trumpeter’s intro with the same melody, which overhangs on the top of his voicings. While improvising, the bandleader shows how muscular his playing can be without ever losing melodic focus.

Moment in Between the Rest” cools the heat by conjuring up tranquil soundscapes, in a mix of sadness and contemplation. The lachrymose trumpet lines are set against cordial harmonic progressions, static bass lines, and understated brushed drumming. Even conveying a soothing effect, the tune is not devoid of a few staggering sounds.
Opening disc two, “Taymoors World” feels very close to the latter piece described, but attempting to provoke something more through impulsive rhythmic shifts interposed in an abrupt and unceremonious way.
Like a frantic locomotive, Brown put his drums to talk loud on the last pair of tunes. As extra stimulus, he counts on Raghavan’s anxious bass pedal on “Withered” and a galvanizing collective ostinato on “Umteyo”.

Even not flying so high as in the previous When the Heart Emerges Glistening and The Imagined Savior Is Far Easier to Paint, the groove and gravitas of Akinmusire’s compositions plus his tour-de-force improvisations can be enjoyed here.

       Grade  B+

       Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
01 – Maurice & Michael ► 03 – Moment in Between the Rest ►07 – Trumpet Sketch