Steve Coleman & the Five Elements

Resistance Is Futile

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The high-concept recordings of saxophonist, composer, and bandleader Steve Coleman are often confrontational, always provocative, and thoroughly engaging. Still, one cannot help but feel that something gets lost in the translation process in the recording studio. This double-CD live package, recorded in France in 2001 from two concerts, showcases the Five Elements at their most ambitious, yet subtle best. Coleman's lineup features trumpeters Jonathan Finlayson and Ambrose Akinmusire, pianist Andy Milne, Anthony Tidd on bass, Jesús Diaz on percussion, drummer Sean Rickman, and trombonist Geoffroy DeMasure. While it's true that most of these musicians are not well known, it's all for the better. Coleman's vision is pure, and the strengths of his collaborators shine through as part of the ensemble, according to plan. Set one (and disc one) is for the most part subdued and meditative, though there are moments of joyous, raucous energy that burst from the seams of the music, such as on "9 to 5," where a long, nearly classical opening is augmented by a Bulgarian dance band melodic line that gives way to a funky overdriven modal chart allowing the front-line players short solos that interchange at a rapid pace. Likewise, the cover of Mingus' "Ah-Leu-Cha" is saturated in deep, greasy blues and gutbucket funk. The way in which Coleman moves the band through the intervals in the bridge is simply stunning. Disc two, which kicks off with the title track, offers a melodic line that is Latin in root, modal in step, and Sun Ra-ish in articulation. The front line shows great discipline in playing just behind the beat with long lines; they angle around a chord figure that is continually refracted against the dissonance by Milne, until the tune breaks open into improvisation with Coleman taking the lead. Track two, the funky "Hits," feels like an Ornette tune coming out of P-Funk, until it breaks down into "Straight, No Chaser" and then "Easy Living." But that's the beginning, really, as Coleman and company tear into a tune by Jerry Goldsmith, a few originals, and one of the finest renditions of Mal Waldron's "Straight Ahead" ever played. Ending with Coleman's "Reflex," the saxophonist moves the edges to the margin and concentrates all of his organizational energies on bringing the band down into the heart of the strange and beautiful melody, accenting the polyrhythms with flurries of notes that open the doors wider and allow everybody to settle into a space that gradually pushes out into the realm of silence. This is one of those rare performances where everything works, and comes across to the listener as an actual concert experience.

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