The Sonic Language of Myth: Believing, Learning, Knowing

COMPOSERS: Steve Coleman And Five Elements
LABELS: BMG
WORKS: The Sonic Language of Myth: Believing, Learning, Knowing
PERFORMER: Steve Coleman (as), AnthonyTidd (elb), Sean Rickman (d), Miguel ‘Anga’ Diaz (perc), Rosangela Silvestre (v), Ravi Coltrane, Craig Handy (ts), Ralph Alessi, Shane Endsley (t),Tim Albright (tb), Vijay Iyer, Robert Mitchell, Jason Moran (p), Stefon Harris (v
CATALOGUE NO: 74321 64123 2

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Steve Coleman is a leading voice on alto saxophone, but his extensive, ultimately banal booklet notes about the spiritual source of his music are superfluous. It must speak for itself, and if it does not, no amount of verbiage will help. For the most part it speaks very well, and there are several passages of great beauty.

The personnel listed above is a pool from which Coleman draws combinations, and throughout, the various rocky rhythms are excellent. Sometimes, as in ‘Precession and ‘The Twelve Powers’, the textures are so dense that the most eloquent music occurs in the quiet, sparse final moments. Voices are frequently part of the soundscape and in ‘Maat’ (the Kemetic Goddess), performed rubato, they are used effectively with arco bass, trumpet, trombone and Coleman’s alto.

The elegiac ending of ‘Ausar’ is superbly done, and the seventh and final piece, ‘Heru’ (Redemption), glows beatifically and features a long, inventive solo by British pianist Robert Mitchell. Coleman is the most featured soloist and sounds permanently inspired. Mark Isham’s homage to Miles Davis is a triumph, its focus absolute. Impetus comes from Isham’s love for the music, and the involvement of his excellent band with the basic line-up of two guitars, bass and drums.

A successful Hollywood film composer, Isham kept in touch with music-making via his group’s appearances at the Baked Potato in LA. He recorded these sessions for his own pleasure, and this was just another evening’s music… but with inspired playing. Seven of the performances are reinterpretations of Davis pieces from the late Sixties and early Seventies, but two are Isham compositions in a Milesian vein — Azael’, a lovely rubato ballad with wah-wah trumpet, and ‘Internet’, a heavy rock foray.

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The tenth piece is ‘All Blues’ from Kind of Blue, but with a reggae beat. Davis’s spirit seems to have infused not only Isham but the whole group and the performances, like so many of Davis’s, seem to border on the superhuman. Isham has never sounded so impassioned on record.