Steve Coleman & Five Elements | Chicago Cultural Center, Claudia Cassidy Theater | Jazz | Chicago Reader

Steve Coleman & Five Elements Recommended Free All Ages Soundboard Critics' Picks

When: Mon., March 28, 6:30 p.m. 2011

If you start by reading the liner notes of Harvesting Semblances and Affinities (Pi), the latest album from saxophonist and composer Steve Coleman, you might not want to listen to it: "'060706-2319 (Middle of Water)' is an intuitive composition based on a moment that is almost the exact middle of the astrological month of Cancer . . . a sonic rendering of this moment especially relating to intuitive energy," reads a typical passage. On paper, the Chicago native's music can seem daunting and more than a little sterile; Coleman's song titles are nearly as technical and obscure as Anthony Braxton's, and he draws upon a wide range of systems (musical, mathematical, and scientific) for his compositions. Fortunately, the music on Harvesting is easy to enjoy, with or without all the extra information Coleman seems eager to supply. His rigorous postbop rides on a dense grid of propulsive polyrhythms; on this record, bassist Thomas Morgan and drummer Tyshawn Sorey construct an ever-shifting matrix of grooves and accents, all interlocking smoothly, inspired by the traditions of Ghana, Cuba, and India (Coleman has studied in all three countries). The band's front line—Jonathan Finlayson's trumpet, Tim Albright's trombone, Jen Shyu's wordless singing, and Coleman's alto—usually plays all at once, each musician's improvisations highly attuned not only to the compositional framework but to the unfolding gestures of the others. In the past the technical ferocity of Coleman's music has sometimes made it feel chilly, but Harvesting is one of his warmest and most melodic albums—particularly the dazzling interpretation of Per Norgard's "Flos Ut Rosa Floruit," where Shyu takes center stage. This is Coleman's first local concert in more than a decade, and he'll lead a stripped-down version of Five Elements with Finlayson, pianist David Virelles, and drummer Kassa Overall; the day before, he'll teach a workshop at the Old Town School of Folk Music. —Peter Margasak

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