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Steve Coleman: The Sonic Language of Myth

Jack Bowers By

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A lot of sound and fury here. Signifying what? Well, according to RCA Victor’s publicity department, The Sonic Language of Myth is “a philosophical journey in sound. Incorporating ancient philosophical, astrological and musical precepts into his compositional foundation, Steve Coleman presents his way of hearing and experiencing music.” And since these precepts are so ancient, who’s going to argue with him? Not I. I’m far more interested in the music itself. Is it Jazz? More or less. Does it swing? Sometimes. At the very least, one has to give Coleman credit for doing it his way, whether or not he agrees with what the alto saxophonist and his colleagues (including a multitude of guest artists) have accomplished. Me? I’m largely mystified, but that’s my fault, not Coleman’s. As he says, “The way a music sounds depends not only on what the musician is expressing but also on what the listener is hearing.” And therein, as Shakespeare might say, lies the rub. I hear what Coleman and company are doing; I am simply unable to understand (or appreciate) it. Coleman goes on to say that while he realizes that “for most people music is entertainment,” to him “music also tells a story. Those who are ready (why is he looking at me?) will hear the story; however, I believe that for music that is based on the principles of creation (presumably his music, and how’s that for pre–empting censure?), even those who listen for entertainment still subconsciously receive mind–expanding vibrations.“ Which is how I must be receiving mine from Coleman’s album, as consciously, at least, there’s no emotional or spiritual bond in sight. Again, Coleman has the answer: “Each selection contains an outer meaning and an inner (immanent) meaning.” I think it’s the inner meaning that may be causing the problem, although I’ve not gleaned a whole lot of pleasure or insight from the outer meaning either. But other, more enlightened souls may acquire plenty, and one must admit that Coleman is an impressive saxophonist, no matter how impenetrable his music may be.

Track listing: Precession; Maat; The Twelve Powers; The Gate; Seth; Ausar (Reincarnation); Heru (Redemption) (68:14).


Track Listing: Precession; Maat; The Twelve Powers; The Gate; Seth; Ausar (Reincarnation) Listen; Heru (Redemption).

Personnel: Tim Albright: trombone; Ralph Alessi: trumpet; Erik Charlston: vocals; Steve Coleman: alto sax; Ravi Coltrane: tenor sax; Miguel Diaz: percussion; Shane Endsley: trumpet; Dave Gold: viola; Craig Handy: tenor sax; Stefon Harris: vibraphone; Dorothy Lawson: cello; Vijay Lyer: piano; Karen McVoy: vocals; Robert Mitchell: piano; Jason Moran: piano; Eugene Palmore: vocals; Sara Parkins: violin; Todd Reynolds: violin; Sean Rickman: drums; Jeanne Ricks: vocals; Mary Rowell: violin; Rosangela Silvestre: vocals; Anthony Tidd: electric bass; Reggie Washington: acoustic bass.

Title: The Sonic Language of Myth | Year Released: 1999 | Record Label: RCA Victor

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