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Steve Coleman: Live at Queen Elizabeth Hall in London

Report on performance by the saxophonist and his group at the London Jazz Festival

Steve Coleman in performance at 2011 London Jazz Festival

The legendarily unconventional alto saxophonist Steve Coleman-who would, of course, never deign to be called a “jazz” musician-helped lead off the London Jazz Festival at Queen Elizabeth Hall on Friday night. In his first appearance at England’s capital in seven years, Coleman began the evening with a public interview in the lobby of the venue, which served as much as a welcoming party as it did an in-depth look at his musical perspectives. But the talk was poignant, and, coupled with his live set, reminded one that what makes a performer like Coleman so special is the fact that hearing him play is very much like hearing him speak.

When asked about the diverse rhythmic qualities of his music, Coleman – as he has done in the past, both verbally and in essays – compared it to the intuitive style of boxers and basketball players. As always, he refused to categorize or place a Western tag on the rhythms he feels, especially regarding the ever-present question: Where’s beat one?

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