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Career-Defining Set Showcases Steve Coleman's Many Talents

*** 1/2 STEVE COLEMAN "Genesis & the Opening of the Way" RCA/BMG

April 12, 1998|Don Heckman

Alto saxophonist and composer Steve Coleman, 41, one of the leaders of the musicians associated around New York's M-Base (Macro-Basic Array of Structured Extemporization) movement, has been pursing a vigorously independent path for most of his career. By any definition, he is an artist who deserves more widespread attention.

This career-defining two-CD release stretches across the breadth of Coleman's interests. The first CD is dedicated to the seven-part "Genesis," composed for a large band with added percussion and strings. The segments, programmatically titled "Day One" through "Day Seven," are less illustrative than cumulative--a kind of spiraling series of pieces building toward a dense, percussive climax. Not easily accessible, "Genesis" is nonetheless utterly fascinating music, filled with subtle byways and unexpected interactions, most of which only begin to emerge after repeated hearings.

The second CD, "The Opening of the Way," showcases Coleman with one of his basic working ensembles, Five Elements. The playing has the improvisatory quality of '60s avant-garde playing, underpinned by surging contemporary rhythms. And Coleman, playing with consistent strength, emerges as one of the unique contemporary alto saxophone voices. With countering solos from pianist Andy Milne and guitarist David Gilmore, this is a set that--like "Genesis"--transforms new, unfamiliar music into a consistently palatable listening experience.

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor) to four stars (excellent).

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