By John Murph | Published February 2022
For all its interlocking rhythms and lattice-structured improvisations, some of the more captivating moments on this live date occur during the quieter times, when Steve Coleman is playing alone or alongside trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson. Often, these flashes happen at the beginning of each composition as Coleman’s alto saxophone unravels a curling, quizzical statement, punctuated with a lingering rising note. Soon after, Coleman’s oblique lines give shape to an entrancing ostinato, which bassist Anthony Tidd mimics and eventually functions with Sean Rickman’s drumming as the rhythmic fulcrum.
Before the rest of ensemble joins in, Coleman’s soliloquies provide the best opportunities for listeners to take in the beauty of alto saxophone tone — a quality of his musicality that’s not discussed enough. It is the perfect counterpoint for his zipping improvisations and jostling interactions with his bandmates.
Four years ago, Pi Recordings released a previous Village Vanguard live set showcasing Coleman leading his estimable Five Elements. That edition included guitarist Miles Okazaki. This companion release, however, sees rapper Kokayi stepping in for Okazaki.
Armed with rhythmic agility and the quick reflexes of a seasoned jazz musician, Kokayi is the MVP on the date. His circuitous flow often functions like a third horn player, while he imbues his propulsive improvisations with cogent narratives.
Live At The Village Vanguard II (MDW NTR): Memes To Midas; Unit Fractions; Little Girl I’ll Miss You; Compassion (Drum Solo)–Ascending Numeration–DeAhbo (Reset); Pad-Thai Ndw Ntr; 9 To 5; Rumble Young Man Rumble; Khet & KaBa; DeAhBo (Reset); 9 To 5–Mdw Ntr. (134:62)
Personnel: Steve Coleman, alto saxophone; Jonathan Finlayson, trumpet; Kokayi, vocals; Anthony Tidd, bass; Sean Rickman, drums.
Ordering Info: pirecordings.com