Steve Coleman: Morphogenesis

Karl Ackermann By

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Steve Coleman's music has long sounded largely removed from the direct influence of his native Southside Chicago, not because those elements are missing, but because he creates a hybrid universe that owes as much to Africa and Europe, and to folk, funk, classical and jazz. His newest release, Morphogenesis, while furthering Coleman's musical development, displays features that were present as far back as his Drop Kick (BMG, 1995) and up to Harvesting Semblances and Affinities (Pi Recordings, 2010); the stripped down earlier album and the elaborately scored later collection both seem to be inspirations for this new music.

The purveyor of M-Base music (Macro-Basic Array of Structured Extemporization), Coleman has made the point that it is neither a style nor sub-genre but a cognitive process of composing where the components are derived from life experiences. The absence of conventional time signatures is one of the primary approaches of the method and it is, in part, driven with the elimination of the traditional drum kit, though Neeraj Mehta supplies percussion on four on the nine tracks. Coleman's Five Elements trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson is on hand along with Council of Balance members Maria Grand on tenor saxophone, violinist Kristin Lee, vocalist Jen Shyu, bassist Anthony Tidd, Rane Moore on clarinet and pianist Matt Mitchell joins in.

Similar to the title suite on Synovial Joints (Pi Recordings, 2015), the movements of the human body play a significant role in Morphogenesis. The "Synovial Joints" suite focuses its four parts on the correlation of various human movements from head to hip. Here, the compositions "Inside Game," "Pull Counter," "Roll Under and Angles," "Shoulder Roll" and "Dancing and Jabbing" are all related to movements in boxing. Without benefit of first reading the liner notes, this would not be obvious. What is clear, however, is the sense of fluidity and flow. To that extent, they are mesmerizing compositions even without being aware of the intended context. "Morphing," as the name would indicate, moves in and out of several loosely constructed ideas, some being more exotic, especially when Lee and Moore are involved. The piece eventually changes completely as Mitchell's piano leads and a post-bop sensibility takes over. By the time the album wraps up with "Horda," the fluidity is working within abstractions of a piece that weaves through more multiple themes. Coleman and Finlayson are sometimes working in unison and at other times with Coleman playing haltingly and contrary to the trumpeter's longer lines.

There are many effects at work on Morphogenesis, from the bluesy opening of "Roll Over..." to the more pronounced African accents of "NOH." Often, what seems like stream-of-consciousness, is deceivingly well structured and fulfills Coleman's vision of taking unprompted ideas and incorporating them into a different musical language. The music, which seems to flow naturally is actually quite a challenging listen. Morphogenesis is a substantial building block in Colemen's evolving process.

Track Listing

Inside Game; Pull Counter; Roll Under and Angles; NOH; Morphing; Shoulder Roll; SPAN; Dancing and Jabbing; Horda.


Steve Coleman: alto saxophone; Jonathan Finlayson: trumpet; Maria Grand: tenor saxophone; Rane Moore: clarinet; Kristin Lee: violin; Jen Shyu: vocals; Matt Mitchell: piano; Greg Chudzik: bass; Neeraj Mehta: percussion.

Album information

Title: Morphogenesis | Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: Pi Recordings


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