June 13, 2024


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Steve Coleman’s concert with singer at Middelheim jazz festival 2018: Photos, Video

Saxophonist Steve Coleman’s concert at Middelheim Jazz Festival Sunday evening was one of those performances so bursting with energy that I simply lost track of time.

The band seemed as captivated by the music as I did and they did not even have time for ending it and coming back for an encore. In stead the drapes to the stage was opened by the festival personnel who wanted to start preparing the stage for the next band and I almost got the feeling that the concert ended mid-performance. Some of it has to do with Coleman’s and his band’s almost ritualistic way of playing with several rhythms and melodies going on at once all of the time without it ever getting cluttered or chaotic. On the contrary it sounds highly organized with every band member always knowing what is expected of them. They drift seamlessly as one from one song to another, or from one tempo or mood to another.

Anthony Tidd and Sean Rickman. Photo: Jazz Desk.
Anthony Tidd and Sean Rickman. Photo: Jazz Desk.

With Coleman and trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson either playing contrapuntal lines or bells when they are not soloing the roles of soloists and rhythm section is somewhat dissolved. All of the musicians functions as a band all of the time. Electric bassist Anthony Tidd and drummer Sean Rickman delivered a deep luxurious groove through the whole concert. Sometimes they gave me the impression of being an unstoppable engine which could go on forever.

A new fifth element

Coleman’s music sounds something like a combination of jazz, especially bop, funk and world music. His band The Five Elements has for a long been his working band and they have just released their new album ”Live at the Village Vanguard” where they play together with guitarist Miles Okazaki who provides a fifth melodic and rhythmic voice to the band. For their concert at Middelheim Jazz however Okazaki was replaced by singer Kokayi who provided lyrics to Coleman’s song. Sometimes he sings them like a blues singer, at other times like a rapper. I do not follow all of the lyrics but I do hear him singing about ancestors at one time, and about a jungle at another. What matters is that what he does fits with the rest of the band. It do not sound as a constructed idea to add a singer but quite natural. Two years ago I saw The Five Elements with Okazaki play in Paris one night. They ended the concert by one by one stopping to play their instruments and start singing their line in stead until they were a beautiful five piece contrapuntal choir. So it seems like Coleman is thinking of his music in terms of the human voice. He also seemed to express joy through his enthusiastic shouts who became part of the music at the concert at Middelheim Jazz. So did the audience in a very appreciative way at what was going on in the music whether it was a bass or drum solo or an inspired vocal by Kokayi.

Steve Coleman and the Fifth Element. Photo: Jazz Desk.
Steve Coleman and the Fifth Element. Photo: Jazz Desk.

I have been to a lot of Coleman’s concerts over the years, both with his smaller bands and the expanded larger groups. They have all been above average performances even considering Coleman’s stature as one of the most influential and innovative jazz musicians. The performance at Antwerp is perhaps the most inspired one of his that I have been to. It seemed like Coleman himself wanted to continue playing and I surely would have liked to continue listening to this trans-like inspired performance. ~ Jazz Desk

Kokayi, Steve Coleman and Jonathan Finlayson. Photo: Jazz Desk.

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