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Steve Coleman: Synovial Joints

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Here’s a radical notion: The music of Steve Coleman is frequently fun to hear. As Coleman gathers prestigious grants like so many pelts-a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Doris Duke Performing Artist Award and a MacArthur “genius” fellowship in 2014 alone-and unfurls the ambitious Synovial Joints, featuring no fewer than 21 musicians on high alert, it may be reassuring to know that, along with being important, serious and unique, Coleman’s latest project is attractive.

That’s not surprising, given Coleman’s growing reliance on “spontaneous composition,” a recorded and transcribed process which involves him clearing his mind and then either singing or playing sax while simultaneously beating out rhythms. Seeing that he was reared on Sonny Stitt, Charlie Parker and Von Freeman while growing up in Chicago, it makes sense that his subconscious often delivers brawny, angular, bop-inflected song fragments that are fitted and layered (thus “composed”) into songs. In addition, Coleman has always proclaimed himself to be in the tradition of Armstrong, Ellington, Parker and Coltrane, with a core unit featuring a horn-driven frontline (his alto and Jonathan Finlayson’s trumpet leading the Five Elements ensemble has recently been the abiding staple), and embellishments specifically tailored to the added personnel.

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