The musical key to Steve Coleman & the Five Elements' new album lie in its title. Harvesting Semblances and Affinities is, in a manner, a suite that acts as a precursor to a forthcoming album that further explores the initial concepts articulated here. While the cover is adorned with interconnected circles and astrological and I Ching symbols, the music follows a rather free-flowing progression on the cyclical nature of time and the seasons, as represented by contrapuntal polyphonic and polyrhythmic fluidity and massively expansive chordal and lyric harmony. Coleman is accompanied by Five Elements veterans vocalist Jen Shyu, trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson, and trombonist Tim Albright; they are joined by a new rhythm section comprised of bassist Thomas Morgan and drummer Tyshawn Sorey on most of the program. Coleman composed and developed six of the seven compositions here from his myriad interests in astrology, science, history, meteorology, mathematics, and physics, but don't let his intellect put you off. These tunes move, groove, and flow with a knotty energy and unified purpose in their careful but extremely spontaneous execution; the set was recorded in a single day. The interplay between the front line -- and this includes Shyu's fine vocalizing -- is exceptionally orchestrated and arranged. The rhythm section's tightrope stroll walks from propulsive force and tension to a pronounced sense of swing that draws the listener in. Check the drum and bass breaks in "Beba" after a particularly intricate set of lyric statements by the horns. Also notable is "060706-2319 (Middle of Water)," the set's hinge piece, that employs exquisite balladry, harmonic inquiry, and improvisational exposition. The only non-Coleman piece here is "Flos Ut Rosaa Floruit" by Danish composer Per Nørgård, based on a spiritually significant medieval text. While not as intensely beat conscious as its countrerparts, its melody suggests the detailed sense of chordal polyphony in Coleman's own themes; it is an inclusive work, transposed by his sense of space, measure, and open inquisitiveness; the beautiful quoting of Lester Young in the cadenza is especially elegant. As adventurous as Harvesting Semblances and Affinities may be, it is Coleman's most accessible recording in a decade, and one that creates high expectations for its forthcoming sequel.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek