Steve Coleman, Synovial Joints

Two years ago, I hailed Steve Coleman’s Functional Arrhythmias as a career breakthrough. His new CD, Synovial Joints (on the Pi Recordings label), is his masterpiece—a thrilling kaleidoscope, densely polyrhythmic, but also brisk and airy: music for serious listening as well as dancing in your head and on your feet.

Coleman, 58, is a master alto saxophonist, conceptualist, and synthesizer, fascinated with the biological roots of music. Functional Arrhythmias referred to the interactions of irregular heartbeats and contrapuntal nerve impulses in the human body. Synovial Joints refers to the joints of the human body: how they pivot, flex, and bend. Yes, it sounds arid on paper, but Coleman evokes and orchestrates it: he makes it sing, sway, and swing.

A world traveler, he also casts his composer’s net on the Sahara Desert’s dusty winds, mythic tales of ancient horn ensembles in Chad, and the calm eye of a hurricane. He does this, he invents musical evocations of these phenomena, without a smidgen of dry reductionism.

His last album featured the Five Elements, his longstanding band that includes trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson, bassist Anthony Tidd, guitarist Miles Okazaki, and drummer Sean Rickman. Synovial Joints expands the quintet to an ensemble called the Council of Balance, ranging from 13 to 20 players (depending on the track), including piccolo, flute, trombone, string quartet, piano, various percussion (timpani, xylophone, gongs, conga), and, throughout, on drums, he has on drums Marcus Gilmore, the 25-year-old wonder (and, by the way, Roy Haynes’ nephew), who plays in Vijay Iyer’s trio, among others.

Coleman has a remarkable ear and sense of harmony, knowing just when to inject these timbral colors into the main melody, the counterpoint, the rhythmic foundation, or the ambient swirl.

Joe Marciano and Max Ross engineered at Systems Two studios in Brooklyn, and they balance all the elements with palpable clarity and drive.

Allen Fant's picture

Thanks! for sharing- FK.

2015 is shaping up nicely for Jazz. I will add the disc to my must-buy list.