Steve Coleman and Five Elements

Live At The Village Vanguard, Vol. 1 (The Embedded Sets)

Steve Coleman and Five Elements outshines all current standing jazz quintets in the quality time its members have spent together, bonding through performance. Though on last year’s Morphogensis and 2015’s Synovial Joints, saxophonist Coleman used expanded personnel for rich orchestration, this two-CD set, recorded live at the Village Vanguard during three nights in May 2017, features his core unit: bassist Anthony Tidd and drummer Sean Rickman, guitarist Miles Ozaki and trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson.

Coleman’s interest in “systems” might apply more to his compositions than to the band’s improvisational interpretations, which seem intuitive, yet everyone’s always in flawless sync. The rhythmists tend exceptionally to dynamics, Rickman and Tidd intensifying or backing off from the ladder-like phrases and tumbling descents Coleman and Finlayson toss off. Okazaki offers understated, but appropriate, comping.

Coleman’s second rendition of “Little Girl I’ll Miss You,” a tune by his alto hero Bunky Green, is a tender, intimate statement. “Figit Time,” by drummer Doug Hammond, another of Coleman’s mentors, fits with the otherwise original repertoire, which encourages disciplined virtuosity, spontaneous exploration and the pleasures of teamwork. Overall, Five Element’s cohesion gives its music a surface of cool consistency. Coleman’s first in-concert release in 15 years, Live is an exemplary example of his current art and practice.