The Sign and the Seal

COMPOSERS: Steve Coleman
LABELS: RCAVictor Jazz
ALBUM TITLE: Steve Coleman and the Mystic Rhythm Society
PERFORMER: Coleman (as); Ravi Coltrane (ts); Ralph Alessi (t); Andy Milne (p); Anthony Tidd (b); Oliver Gene Lake (d); Josh Jones (perc); plus AfroCuba de Mantanzas
CATALOGUE NO: 74321 40727 2

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Steve Coleman is one of the most resolutely individual musicians to emerge from the Eighties jazz resurgence. His music, dubbed M-Base, has always been a fluid concept, stressing ‘inclusivity’ by drawing on the music of his life experiences to expand the jazz vocabulary.

Originally, that meant bringing the polyrhythmic complexity of James Brown face-to-face with his Charlie Parker-influenced sax on albums like Motherland Pulse. His refusal to retreat into jazz history has not led to a comfortable ride in life, and his uncompromisingly modern take on jazz has not always been successful, but at least there has always been a feeling of an artist moving forward.

His latest move is a collaboration with the Cuban folkloric group AfroCuba de Mantanzas, who have upheld the African song-forms and rhythms virtually untainted by 20th-century civilisation because of Cuba’s peculiar political isolation.

As Coleman has pointed out, the common denominator between M-Base and AfroCuba lies in African rhythms, as much part of James Brown’s music as of AfroCuba de Mantanzas’s.

Coleman’s step is logical, as the rhythmic concept of jazz has remained essentially unchanged since the turn of the century, stuck in the 4/4 groove. One way to refresh it is to alter its rhythmic base completely.

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It is certainly something West Coaster Peter Apfelbaum has always believed was the ultimate destiny of jazz, and what artists like Coleman and David Murray on his recent Fo Deuk Revue seem to be making a reality. SN