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Steve Coleman and Five Elements at Albright-Knox Art Gallery

Matthew Aquiline By

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Steve Coleman and Five Elements
Albright-Knox Art Gallery
Art of Jazz
Buffalo, NY
October 29, 2016

If Steve Coleman's set at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery proved anything, it's that residencies are still a beneficial means to cultivating unrivaled virtuosity within a band.

In the case of composer, alto saxophonist, and bandleader Steve Coleman and his band Five Elements, a recent 11-day run of shows and workshops at Detroit's Carr Center allowed for Buffalo jazz fans to witness the output of a well-oiled machine. Their debut in Buffalo, Steve Coleman and Five Elements opened the Albright-Knox's Art of Jazz series, produced by University at Buffalo music professor and trumpeter Jon Nelson.

Coleman—arguably the most influential jazz musician of his time—has received a substantial amount of deserving recognition as of recent; he was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship ("Genius Grant"), a Doris Duke Artist Award, and was met with universal acclaim for Functional Arrhythmias (Pi, 2013) with Five Elements and Synovial Joints (Pi, 2015) with the Council of Balance.

Although following in the tradition of visionaries such as Charlie Parker, Sonny Stitt, John Coltrane, and Henry Threadgill, Coleman is reluctant to label his music "jazz." Instead, he has branded his own cutting-edge musical language that is distinguished by non-western concepts, polyphonic textures, and fluctuating polyrhythms that are often derived from spontaneous improvisation. Coleman's compositions, while complex and often esoteric, frequently take root through patterns found in nature such as the rhythm of the human circulatory system. All of Coleman's compositional idiosyncrasies can be traced back to his "M-Base" (Macro-Basic Array of Structured Extemporizations) concept—a set of ideas that suggests "growth through creativity."

Coleman, sporting his traditional backwards cap and powder blue shirt, opened the show with an unaccompanied lament, giving the audience a preview of his thoughtful phrasing and sophisticated approach to playing. One by one, each player emerged in the mix until one could see and hear the birth of a sonic portrait. Drummer Sean Rickman laid down an Afro-Cuban style beat for bassist Anthony Tidd and guitarist Miles Okazaki to accentuate with a cyclic groove. Coleman soloed with an augmented sense of expression and creativity before handing the spotlight off to the up-and-coming, yet masterful trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson, who demonstrated a matured sense of precision and clarity.

Throughout the night, the musicians continually showcased a sense of unity, whether during intricate originals or leisured ballads. Adding subtleties to Rickman's dynamic drumming, Coleman and Finlayson picked up cowbells to fill in gaps while the other was soloing. Rhythmically, Tidd's basslines were always effective in maintaining an impeccable groove. Okazaki, while not the liveliest force in the band, proved himself as a master of nuances whose solos were reminiscent of Jim Hall's. Finlayson matched Coleman in terms of musical dexterity, which truly exhibited music at its most potent to the audience.

After nearly 90 minutes of ambitious music that included sonic experimentation, a striking drum solo, and a scat performance, Steve Coleman and Five Elements exited the stage, leaving Buffalo to reflect on the world-class musicianship they just witnessed.

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