Steve Coleman & Five Elements floor all comers with Mayweather-style beat magic

They say that writing about music is like dancing about architecture. It's always difficult and often strange, but sometimes it feels totally absurd. Take this set from boundary-breaking US altoist and composer Steve Coleman and his Five Elements group at central London's 229 The Venue, a club more often associated with punk and indie bands. What can I tell you about it? Only that it was one of the most mind-expanding, rhythmically-audacious gigs I've ever seen. How can I make you feel like you were there? All I can do is offer an analogy.

Like Miles Davis, Coleman loves boxing. His last release, 2015's Morphogenesis, was a musical exploration of the sport and you can hear the influence of it in his writing. Watching this performance felt like stepping into the ring with Floyd Mayweather. The music was a storm of punches – visceral but pinpoint precise. Coleman and trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson jammed out hypnotic riffs and intricate lines, alternating solos like sparring partners – latching onto motifs, developing and abstracting. Anthony Tidd laid down absurdly funky, electric bass grooves and syncopated pedals, including one that was so fast it sounded like the shuddering whirr of fists on a speedball. And drummer Sean Rickman drove them along with needle-sharp hi-hat patterns and snapping backbeats.

Sometimes they locked into trance-like grooves for minutes at a time before triggering confounding metric modulations and sudden shifts – the musical equivalent of fancy footwork, shoulder rolls. Rhythmic. Feints and changes, of tempo and-if-this-ludicrous-punctuation-is. Tripping. You up then good: you have some idea of. What it... was like.

Every so often the group's towering MC, Kokayi, stepped up to the mic, channelling the fire of a Baptist preacher, spitting his own rhythmically inventive bars and providing snarling, street-smart commentary on everything from social media ("tweet, tweet"), puppet masters and PTSD to the story of Icarus: "I'm not going to play it safe, Dad. I'm just going to spread my wings and fly." He was great to watch. As he rapped he flexed his hands – heavy with bracelets and rings – and mimed playing the pining-ponging pitches of his vocal lines on an invisible trumpet or guitar. Every questing, poetic salvo earned him a huge cheer.

A lifetime of musical research and experimentation was countersunk into the performance. Cutting hornlines brought echoes of one of Coleman's early inspirations: James Brown sax player Maceo Parker. There were glimpses of jazz standards – including a radical abstraction of 'Round Midnight' and a jabbing, close-harmony riff in the horns that eventually revealed itself as a play on 'Salt Peanuts'. And there were myriad ideas derived from Coleman's deep investigations into the rhythms of West Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean.

In the past, Coleman has said that he thinks of himself as a West African griot – a musician, storyteller and custodian of tradition responsible for passing knowledge on. Late in the set, he adopted that persona, beating a 3-2 clave pattern on a cowbell and accompanying it with wordless hollers. Then came funk beats and distorted bebop lines and jaw-dropping gobbledygook vocalising performed by the whole band in unison. By which point I was metaphorically out for the count, sprawled on the canvas, looking up at Coleman and the Elements through a vortex of cartoon stars. Afterwards, my equally punch-drunk musician friends decided against going to the pub: "What are we going to talk about after that?" Pity the fool who had to write 500 words.

Thomas Rees

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website

If you do not change browser settings, you consent to continue. Learn more

I understand

Breaking News

'A Great Day in Harlem' celebrates 60th anniversary

'A Great Day in Harlem' celebrates 60th …

Photographer Art Kane's legendary jazz photograph, 'Harlem – 1958', commonly...

Read More.....
Zara McFarlane and Ayanna Witter Johnson for Kinch’s Flyover Show

Zara McFarlane and Ayanna Witter Johnson…

Soweto Kinch's free one-day arts festival, The Flyover Show, returns...

Read More.....
Steely Dan tributes and basses high at Sligo Jazz Project

Steely Dan tributes and basses high at S…

In a week of outstanding musical offerings in Sligo, perhaps...

Read More.....
Maria Schneider and Ensemble Denada meld mystery and drama with McCaslin at Molde

Maria Schneider and Ensemble Denada meld…

  Molde might be a small coastal town in western Norway...

Read More.....
John Zorn's Simulacrum project rewrite radical organ trio template at Jazz em Agosto

John Zorn's Simulacrum project rewrite r…

King Crimson and tech-death titans such as Cynic and Atheist...

Read More.....
Ron Davis lines up with Seonaid Aitken for SymphRONica Scottish sojourn

Ron Davis lines up with Seonaid Aitken f…

Canadian pianist Ron Davis (above left) has enlisted the Scottish...

Read More.....
Christian McBride’s New Jawn and Chick Corea Akoustic Trio create magic in Malta

Christian McBride’s New Jawn and Chick C…

If Valletta's sun-baked limestone is a constant reminder of Malta's...

Read More.....
Tomasz Stańko – 11 July 1942 – 29 July 2018

Tomasz Stańko – 11 July 1942 – 29 July 2…

In 2002, the Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stańko provided an answer...

Read More.....
Steve Coleman & Five Elements floor all comers with Mayweather-style beat magic

Steve Coleman & Five Elements floor …

They say that writing about music is like dancing about...

Read More.....
Archie Shepp, Herbie Hancock and Tuba Titans kick out the cool at Montreal Jazz Festival

Archie Shepp, Herbie Hancock and Tuba Ti…

Canadians are patronisingly characterised in the US as 'over-polite' but...

Read More.....
Wayne Shorter enters the multiverse with album and graphic novel

Wayne Shorter enters the multiverse with…

Iconic saxophonist Wayne Shorter is set to make a dramatic...

Read More.....
Nérija alumni illuminate Jazz Re:fest's Brighton Dome bonanza

Nérija alumni illuminate Jazz Re:fest's …

  Day-trippers pour out of the trains in their hundreds, heading...

Read More.....
Brötzmann Cocked To Blast At Third Brighton Alt Bash

Brötzmann Cocked To Blast At Third Brigh…

The south coast's premier experimental music symposium – the Brighton...

Read More.....
Szun Waves launch New Hymn To Freedom with live dates

Szun Waves launch New Hymn To Freedom wi…

Electronica jazz trio Szun Waves release their second album, New...

Read More.....
Donny McCaslin’s big Blow set for Scala

Donny McCaslin’s big Blow set for Scala

US saxophonist Donny McCaslin follows the breakthrough success of 2016's...

Read More.....
PRS Foundation Momentum Music Fund now open for applications

PRS Foundation Momentum Music Fund now o…

The PRS Foundation's Momentum Music Fund has helped the likes...

Read More.....
Beats & Pieces Big Band launch Ten with video and tour

Beats & Pieces Big Band launch Ten w…

Manchester's mighty Beats & Pieces Big Band continue their yearlong...

Read More.....
Robert Glasper leads R+R=NOW for stormy Celebrate Brooklyn blow-out

Robert Glasper leads R+R=NOW for stormy …

The history of collectives in jazz are nearly as old...

Read More.....
Are you ready for the Write Stuff? 2018 Applications Now Open

Are you ready for the Write Stuff? 2018 …

Budding music writers listen up! This year's Write Stuff music...

Read More.....
John Coltrane’s The Lost Album: Both Directions at Once hits Top 20 Albums

John Coltrane’s The Lost Album: Both Dir…

Last week's release of John Coltrane's The Lost Album: Both...

Read More.....
Boogie at the Bandstand - Love Supreme's festival within a festival

Boogie at the Bandstand - Love Supreme's…

With an abundance of big names on the larger stages...

Read More.....
Keyon Harrold, Vijay Iyer and EXPO Commissions for 40th Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Fest

Keyon Harrold, Vijay Iyer and EXPO Commi…

The 40th edition of the Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival...

Read More.....
Roy Carr 1945 – 2018

Roy Carr 1945 – 2018

Doyen of the music press for half a century and...

Read More.....
Pharoah's Prophecies Pave Way For New Wave Of Spiritual Sentinels At This Year's Love Supreme

Pharoah's Prophecies Pave Way For New Wa…

"I've already had my mind blown once today," a geezerish...

Read More.....
Meshell Ndegeocello and The Bad Plus for Innervisions Fest at Under The Bridge

Meshell Ndegeocello and The Bad Plus for…

Chelsea music venue, Under the Bridge, will play host to...

Read More.....
Brockley Beer & Improv Sessions Brew Up New Series

Brockley Beer & Improv Sessions Brew…

Connoisseurs of craft ales and well-crafted extemporisation, rejoice! Another series of...

Read More.....
Archie Shepp, Phronesis, Kandace Springs and Kit Downes added to EFG London Jazz Festival

Archie Shepp, Phronesis, Kandace Springs…

The line-up for this year's EFG London Jazz Festival, which...

Read More.....
Wynton Marsalis Quartet open up to the spirit of Ornette at Barbican

Wynton Marsalis Quartet open up to the s…

Wynton Marsalis is more forward-thinking than he gets credit for...

Read More.....
Joe Lovano and Dave Douglas step up with Sound Prints at the Village vanguard

Joe Lovano and Dave Douglas step up with…

Joe Lovano remarked that "it was the end of an...

Read More.....
Jazz Women celebrated at Jazz Centre UK exhibition

Jazz Women celebrated at Jazz Centre UK …

Southend-on-Sea's Jazz Centre UK presents a major exhibition, Jazz Women...

Read More.....
Boggamasta boogie on down at Brussels Jazz Weekend

Boggamasta boogie on down at Brussels Ja…

The UK equivalent to the Brussels Jazz Weekend would be...

Read More.....
Orphy Robinson gets Gibraltar rocking beyond Borders

Orphy Robinson gets Gibraltar rocking be…

British vibes virtuoso Orphy Robinson is artist-in-residence at the year's...

Read More.....
Vijay Iyer Sextet and Julian Lage jive to Jazz Cafe

Vijay Iyer Sextet and Julian Lage jive t…

Having reopened its doors in January 2016, following a multi-million-pound...

Read More.....
Jon Hiseman 1944-2018

Jon Hiseman 1944-2018

One of the UK's foremost drummers and bandleaders, Jon Hiseman...

Read More.....
Airto Moreira's Afro-Samba Anthems Raise Roof At Ronnie's

Airto Moreira's Afro-Samba Anthems Raise…

  No greater sign of changing times comes than in this...

Read More.....
Ayanna Witter-Johnson and Binker & Moses head to Harrogate

Ayanna Witter-Johnson and Binker & M…

The Harrogate International Festival, which has been running for over...

Read More.....


Subcribe To Jazzwise

Advertisement

Call 0800 137201 to subscribe or click here to email the subscriptions team

Get in touch

Jazzwise Magazine,
St. Judes Church,
Dulwich Road, 
Herne Hill,
London, SE24 0PD.

0208 677 0012

Latest Tweets

@Glinner Worst Metallica gig ever
Follow Us - @Jazzwise
'A Great Day in Harlem' celebrates 60th anniversary https://t.co/HJ53ZayzCb https://t.co/jdVwWYz2Dh
Follow Us - @Jazzwise

Newsletter

© 2016 MA Business & Leisure Ltd registered in England and Wales number 02923699 Registered office: Jesses Farm, Snow Hill, Dinton, Salisbury, SP3 5HN . Designed By SE24 MEDIA