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Jazz Review

Elements Makes Discoveries in Old and New Territories

February 26, 2001|DON HECKMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The Skirball Center for the Arts may have a relatively modest program of jazz events, but the venue came up with a world-class winner Friday night in the appearance of Steve Coleman and his group Elements. Alto saxophonist Coleman has been an important presence in the vanguard area of jazz, especially in his work with the M-Base (Macro-Basic Array of Structured Extemporization) concept of jazz and his various installments of Elements. More so than most of the efforts to combine jazz with elements of pop, blues and R&B, Coleman's synthesis of avant-garde improvisation with funk-driven rhythmic grooves manages to find a compatible linkage without sacrificing either the energy or creativity of each.

At Skirball, he presented more than two hours of music, most of it performed with hardly a break, much of it consisting of originals. The exceptions included a remarkably deconstructed, then reconstructed rendering of " 'Round Midnight." Following that, Coleman and pianist Andy Milne combined for a stunning interpretation of "Body and Soul"--imaginative in its view of the song's structure and harmony, and essentially implying that the entire catalog of the so-called Great American Songbook can still be a rich lode of musical possibilities for adventurous young jazz artists.

In addition to the stunning work of Coleman and Milne, there was some remarkable playing from the still teenage Jonathan Finlayson, a trumpeter with enormous potential. Bassist Anthony Tidd and drummer Gene Lake were equal partners in the mix, with Lake playing with subtle, supportive discretion in his accompaniment, saving wide-open expressiveness for his own solo passages.

It was an evening of penetrating, multilayered music-making and a clear signal that jazz has lost none of its adventure, creativity or relevance.

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