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July/August 1999

Steve Coleman
The Sonic Language of Myth: Believing, Learning
RCAVictor

From the first track to the last, Steve Coleman's latest project further establishes the alto saxist/conceptualist as one of the most forward-thinking figures working in-and, not incidentally, around-the jazz realm. Like Henry Threadgill and precious few others, Coleman has been stretching and exploring a musical vocabulary of his own devising, and, in the process, touching on ideas suggesting contemporary classical world, and traces of the thinking-funk of M-BASE. On this project, Coleman explores constructs involving philosophy and astrology, among other things, but the purely musical upshot is something with Coleman's signature probity.

Exploration is woven into this music, with material less about chord changes than harmonic textures, less about riffs than linear mazes, and less about individual and collective soloing than about means of interaction. It starts strongly, with the seductively cyclical whirl of "Precession," and variation guides the path, with horn-intensive writing, pieces with and without rhythm section (as on the pithy but mighty "Gate," featuring tenor saxist Ravi Coltrane and trombonist Ralph Alessi), strings, and creatively-deployed text (as with Rosangela Silvestre's lead on the epic "Seth").

This album isn't likely to win Coleman much in the way of commercial or mainstream attention, but it furthers the notion that jazz must move forward and outward to fulfill its mission of evolution. It's no museum piece.

Originally published in July/August 1999
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