Steve Coleman: Elements Of One
“ If you love jazz because of how deeply it can push you into new realms of deep feeling and thoughts, this DVD is a necessity ”
Elements Of One
This 90 minute documentary by Eve-Marie Breglia about the saxophonist and composer Steve Coleman sets a benchmark for just how intellectually engaging a film portrait of a jazz musician can be. The film records a six year odyssey highlighting Coleman's career in the 1990s, concentrating on his travels in Cuba, Senegal, India, Egypt, France, and The U.S.
But before the musical travels commence, Breglia concentrates on Coleman's hometown roots, revealing his musical affinities with Chicago's free-thinking saxman Von Freeman, nearly four decades Coleman's elder. Their conversations and duets set the stage for Coleman's globe-trotting search for the ancestral roots of his original music. This search lead quite logically to the Matanzas region of Cuba, a region legendary for preserving Afro-Cuban ritual drum music, and to Senegal, that West African region where slave trade to this hemisphere originated.
Breglia's camera sensitively records Coleman's band interacting with AfroCuba de Matanzas, a group previously filmed in a jazz collaboration with Jane Bunnett on her Cuban Odyssey DVD. The process of two quite different musical styles arising out of different cultural seedbeds is captured with an astute eye for the patience, humor, and intellectual daring required of all parties involved with building complex musical bridges.
The Cuban workshops and jam sessions seque seamlessly into Coleman's group working in a likewise intricate fashion with the Senegalese drum band, SingSing Rhythm of Senegal.Learning how drum beats comprise a coherent language for these Senegalese musicians helps Coleman and his band develop an adventuresome jazz/hip-hop fusion which is shown in all its zany energy during an Oakland, California concert.
If the film had centered only upon Coleman's musical experimentation within Afro-Cuban, U.S., and West African contexts, this might have been the story of any number of other jazzmen, say Randy Weston or Dizzy Gillespie. But Coleman story as recorded so comprehensively by Breglia's lens transcends musical Pan-Africanism.
Coleman is an extraordinarily sophisticated musical researcher and philosopher, one whose music reflects an obsession with a numerical mysticism, the ratios between various note intervals and natural world forms, that leads to Caballah and ancient Egyptian, Indian, and Greek philosophy. So the film reveals Coleman group learning the rhythmic principles of Indian classical music and stunningly reveals Coleman playing by himself, with surprising sweetness, before the Great Pyramid in Egypt.
As if all of this musical cross-fertilization informed by neo-Platonic numerological philosophy weren't enough, the film concludes with a preposterously engaging experiment involving Coleman and his band interacting in concert with "Rameses," an interactive improvising computer program of Coleman's design, offering different numerical compositions based on astrological relationships beyond this writer's comprehension. What matters, finally, is the music, which is never less than completely engaging, intellectually and emotionally, throughout this stunningly shot and edited documentary. If you want a jazz film that is simply entertaining and nothing more, then this film is not for you. If you love jazz because of how deeply it can push you into new realms of deep feeling and thought, this DVD is a necessity.
Track Listing: Intro, A Musician and his lineage, In Cuba, In Senegal, In America, In India, In Egypt, Rameses, plus 60 minutes of extra footage with performances by the musicians in the 90 minute documentary.
Personnel: Steve Coleman with The Mystic Rhythm Society; Metrics; Five Elements, with Ravi Coltrane, Ralph Alessi, Andy Milne, Anthony Tidd, Sean Richman, Gene Lake, Josh Jones, Anga Diaz, Von Freeman