Album review: Steve Coleman – The Mancy of Sound (Pi)

Steve Coleman. Photo: Patricia Magalhases

Passion is occasionally missing in the complex music of saxophonist Steve Coleman, but precision has forever got its back.

Notable for its focus, polyphonic swirl marks the essence of the middle-aged saxophonist’s strategies. Instruments often exclaim simultaneously, but rarely does their friction become messy. Counterpoint defines any Coleman ensemble, and on The Mancy of Sound, every member of the octet makes his or her own spark.

This rigorous process can sound like popcorn popping. Two of the era’s most exacting and propulsive trap drummers, Tyshawn Sorey and Marcus Gilmore, interact with hand percussionist Ramon Garcia Perez to form a nexus of beats through which trumpet, trombone, bass, and voice intricately zigzag. Some of the grooves feel like they’ve been reflected in a funhouse mirror. Some sound like they’ve been concocted at a calculus seminar. Most are fascinating precisely because of this warped spin on trad precision. On “Water-Oyeku (Odu Ifa Suite),” the melody slips while the thrust slides. Coleman, who sometimes explains his work by alluding to lunar phases as well as I-Ching trigrams, has previously likened his soloing efforts to the movements of clouds in the sky.

A couple pieces—deemed “Formation 1” and “Formation 2”— operate without rhythm-section support yet lose little of the oomph that marks the album’s other tracks. Ultimately, they have a fugue-like atmosphere, with lines darting in and out of the foreground. A few moments on Mancy (which alludes to the practice of foretelling future events) are disorienting, but in the large, it’s quite engaging. And at its best—as on the “Noctiluca (Jan 11)”—this record is a whirlwind to which you’ll likely want to submit again and again. —Jim Macnie

 

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