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*** STEVE COLEMAN, "The Sign and the Seal: Transmissions of the Metaphysics of a Culture," BMG/RCA Victor

May 18, 1997|Bill Kohlhaase

Saxophonist Steve Coleman has found a number of invigorating backdrops for his strangely linear alto play over the years, most frequently threading it through hip-hop and funk beats. But here, Coleman and his Mystic Rhythm Society team with the Cuban folklore ensemble AfroCuba de Matanzas to explore Yoruba and other African musical traditions that survive in Cuba. The result is a sympathetic meeting of cultures that recalls the spirit of the work of Ornette Coleman (no relation) with the Master Musicians of Jajouka--and gives Steve Coleman his best album of the last several years.

Recorded in Havana, the disc brings the urban, streetwise style of Coleman's crew, including tenor saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, trumpeter Ralph Alessi and drummer Oliver Gene Lake, together with earthy percussion and vocal chants from the ensemble. Bata drums power and call-and-response vocals frame the saxophonist's twisted narratives. The material, all written by Coleman in collaboration with the Cubans, looks to Yoruba myths and Cuban traditions for its inspirations, and often calls on the ensemble to get funky. This is the best of the three newly released Coleman CDs--the others being "Myths Modes and Means" and "The Way of the Cipher"--that feature Coleman recorded live at Paris' Hot Brass Club in other intriguing settings.

*

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).

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