September 2006

Steve Coleman and The Five Elements
at the Guelph Jazz Festival
September 9, 2006River Run Centre Guelph
The Long Road Home
by Paul J. Youngman with photos by Roger Humbert
Steve Coleman has a beautiful tone, a very clean sound. He uses flowing lyrical lines and a tremendous amount of self-control, discipline and confinement in his approach to creativity. The arrangements of the various instruments including the vocals are very interesting, not the interest that gets you moving, more like the intrigue that has you wondering how, why, what and where? The arrangements of the horns, alto saxophone, trumpet, and trombone have very good, catchy rhythms; they make you expectant of that which never seems to arrive.

I was looking forward to being shocked by this performance; I was on guard for a band that would put it all out there with over the edge improvisation. This performance however never got close to the edge, this was very tame, straight ahead music that was pleasant to listen to. The music was pulsating, the rhythm section set out a funky groove and never veered from that path. A heart beating, charging and sometimes labouring five or seven beat pattern that became hypnotic.

There were moments when Steve Coleman played beautiful complex lines that would weave in and out of the main body of the tune. He would also finish the patterns set down by the trumpet or trombone player and then go back to the main line. The playing was dark and sombre, perhaps Coleman was in mourning for another great sax player? The emotion and the vibe that was present was definitely not one of joy.

The expectant explosions of power, creativity or excitement never really developed, no single element took command. There was a fine blending of sounds, the trumpet player had clean, crisp lines but never let go. Emotions were held in check, an ice-cold group of musicians on a tightly-held rein.

Improvisation should come from within and without restriction. The ability to play your instrument well enough that you can play what you envision in your mind, this is the ultimate aim. Toss the music stands, burn the musical notation and create, just play.

The band played on the same theme for approximately ninety minutes, gliding into a tight ending. The audience applauded energetically and respectfully. This occurred while a mass exodus was underway, about twenty-five percent of the audience departed.

Steve Coleman
The second tune started strongly, it reminded me of the previous tune but had a slightly different pulse. As the music developed, it opened up, similar to a flower in the morning opening its petals. One by one the players were allowed out of the box, they became more relaxed and took some extended soloing. Time went by rapidly, more excitement and emotion developed amongst the players. The remaining audience, realizing this was just getting going settled in for a concert, another scattering of audience exited the theatre.

The band relaxed further and picked up on a groove, perhaps repaying our loyalty for not abandoning them. The creativity level picked up by the tandem and building spiritual force of drummer Marcus Gilmore and bass player Thomas Morgan. Jamming freely for the next half hour within a relaxed atmosphere the band tightly finished — followed by boom – bah – ah – ah – boom. Gilmore would continue to play a few extra beats. Coleman would look up in dismay and throw out a dismissive hand gesture. Gilmore would shrug his shoulders. The audience would chuckle, finally a human element.

I’m glad Marcus Gilmore got in the final statement, he was a delight to behold with a left hand that never stopped rolling, augmented by crackling accents just off the expected beat. A great accompanist to Coleman and following a choreographer’s direction to perfection. What else would you expect from the grandson of Roy Haynes?

Jen Shyu (vocals), Steve Coleman (alto saxophone), Jonathan Finlayson (trumpet)
Tim Albright (trombone), Thomas Morgan (bass), Marcus Gilmore (drums)
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Paul J. Youngman
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Roger Humbert
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The Live Music Report
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© The Live Music Report – 2006