Gigs, dance, art

May 5th, 2011: Steve Coleman & Five Elements

@cité de la musique

No drummer this time, the piano (David Virelles) and guitar (Miles Okazaki) were in charge of the rhythm section. I like percussive piano, so that was fine by me. I really like what Steve Coleman does, and I’m most fond of Jen Shyu and Jonathan Finlayson in this lineup, so I was well within my comfort zone despite the changes — I’m not sure that’s a good thing though.

Overall that was definitely not one of my favorite performances of theirs, but there were unexpected rhythmic twists in the second part that made it well worth it. I suspect I could come to reevaluate this positively in the future, it had the feel of something new being tried.

What felt weird was that I didn’t like Jen Shyu as much as usual. I suspect that my finally seeing her solo made me chafe at her secondary role. That would not be a good development, as she’s probably not likely to play solo often around here. But Coleman was good and I took that opportunity to focus more on Finlayson, and that was very rewarding. And they played for a long time, adding an encore without Coleman that was more playful than the main event. I was surprised at how long they had played, always a sure sign that I enjoyed the show more than I thought.

I’m not sure what I think of it, and that’s a good thing.


June 13, 2011 Posted by | Music | , | Leave a comment

November 9th, 2009: Steve Coleman & Five Elements

@new morning

I enjoyed this shew, but I had higher expectations.It’s a fine line, and I put that squarely on the drummer  Don’t get me wrong, Marcus Guilmore  is a good one, but I like Tyshawn Sorey so much that going back to the regular drummer alone made the show less than what I hoped.  On the one hand, there was Jen Shyu‘s voice — when will I get the chance to hear her doing her own thing? — and Steve Coleman‘s great leadership, on the other hand this was a regular jazz show and having experienced their ability to get way beyond that, that was  a bit of a disappointment. Just a bit, because these regular shows are also a way to look as what the baseline is, even though I think my favorite thing about Coleman is his ability to integrate other elements — pun intended — into his music, Opus Akoben going even further in that I think their common performances brought both bands beyond what they could do on their own. Here it was Coleman and Five Elements only, so I didn’t expect that much. But still, I expected more, which was bad news for me, another trip into the hell of high expectations.

It’s all about expectations, because they played for close to to three hours, and most of it was very good. But this one poorly compared to previous performances. It went closer to regular jazz, first, and I’m probably not that sensitive to this part of their music. Then there’s the Gilmore/Sorey thing, that’s really a matter of taste, I don’t think it can be debated — again, Guilmore is good, but his style is different from Sorey’s, especially when it comes to the relative use of cymbals, and I happen to like Sorey better.

Coleman played a lot in my opinion, but still left a lot of place for the others, a trait which makes him my favorite jazz leader. He’s so good at this I wish he would do workshops on that part alone; how to be in charge through getting everyone to be highlighted in turn; how to be confident enough to make a statement then walk aside, or not, depending on what the music calls for. I do think he was more assertive than in previous shows, but that’s just another way of saying I think the band didn’t come together as well. I don’t know why, but I felt unity was lacking, in that there was Shyu and Coleman, Finlayson and Albright, then Morgan and Guilmore. Those sub-units worked very well, but I felt communication wasn’t that smooth between them. That’s my number one gripe, because I’d been so totally impressed to far with Coleman’s performance as a leader — second to Bill Belichick, but he has had his share of misses as well.

On a totally personal take, I’d say I wish there had been less Guilmore soloing and more Jen Shyu. Then again, that was another not exactly subtle plea for a Jen Shyu performance around here. I really want to hear her on her own, with her own call on where she wants to take her voice.

November 14, 2009 Posted by | Music | , | Leave a comment

July 26th, 2008: Steve Coleman and Five Elements with Opus Akoben / SFJazz Collective

@parc floral

Outdoors gig, with the sun out most of the time, which was nice. It’s the only one I found so far, and prospects for August look bleak on that front, so it was an even more welcome treat. Actually prospects for any kind of gig whatsoever look very poor this year. Boredom looms.

SFJazz Collective opened with a mix of Wayne Shorter compositions and others from some members. They are indeed very talented and their own stuff was pretty good as well. It’s really a question of taste, but it was not completely satisfying to me, I felt something was missing. It sounded maybe too neat, and for me lacked some experiments, some wildness. That why it was good but not great to me. But as far as this style of jazz is concerned, they’re good performers and delivered an enjoyable set. Of course part of that impression comes from my expectations about the next set.

I think it’s telling that I had never heard anything by Steve Coleman one year ago, and that gig was the fifth time I saw him, the third with five elements. I think Opus Akoben had one more member back in February, but I don’t think that’s why the set sounded very different. Part of that impression comes from the conditions: soaking up the sun on grass in a park in summer instead of dancing in the very first row in a concert hall in winter: can’t get much more different. I didn’t see them interacting, but I could hear that easiness and fun.

Anyway, it was great again. They played for close to two hours, and went from very quiet parts centered on Jen Shyu‘s wonderful voice — with an almost South American feel to it at times — to urban dynamic beats driven by Kikayi’s flow. With a lot in between of course. It was great hearing the development of it all, how things quickly came together and the way I could feel a change of pace brewing. I guess that’s a benefit of familiarity, I may have lost the surprise effect but this improved insight is well worth it for the tension alone. Another benefit is that I could feel Jen Shyu’s voice even when I could hardly hear her; she blends in so well with the sax, trumpet and trombone, bringing an amazing twist to the result. I might even like that better than her being in the front, though that’s too close to call. Again, Coleman himself was just right, knowing when not to play and never showing off. And of course Tyshawn Sorey was at his usual great — can we get Fieldwork in Paris please? — and his interaction with the other drummer was really something.

Another thing I really love about this music is that it’s really accessible on several levels. People who know as little as I do about jazz, or even nothing, can and do connect. I think a big part of it comes from Opus Akoben, but it’s music to dance to — two bass, two drummers definitely helps, see the Dirtbombs — but one can enjoy the great play or the structure, and probably many other sides that completely elude me. Five elements is probably with favorite live act right now, and even the heavy dose I got this year leaves me wanting more.

July 30, 2008 Posted by | Music | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

February 9th, 2008: Steve Coleman and Five Elements / Opus Akoben

@salle Jacques Brel, Fontenay sous Bois

I count myself lucky on that one. I only heard about it on Thursday, while looking for information about another gig. I got a ticket right away and it turned out to be sold out, so that was probably a close call. I knew I made the right move when I learned more about the lineup. First, they would be on stage with the hip-hop band that includes the two guys from the Pro-Verb project. Second, and most important for me, Jen Shyu would be there. I just love her voice. My luck held further on the way when I caught a nice sunset and found a park dark enough for me to gaze at the stars for a while before the show; listening to Vietnamese songs in that setting so close to a big city was a great disconnect that helped me get into a receptive frame of mind.

The show proved to be amazingly great. I was not as moved as the first time I saw Five Elements, but it came close. Completely different again, with less brilliance and more energy. Opus Akoben were a perfect complement, with two talented MCs including Kokayi who spend some time clowning around to great effect. It was great in that this great music was delivered with a sense of ease and fun, stripped of any pretend, even though it sure could warrant some. Again, I was in awe at the way Coleman appeared as just one among peers, no overbearing leader. And when he went for a solo, it was short and without any display of virtuosity. But it came to me as near perfect, with each note meaningful. In a sense, that feeling was close to what I got from listening to Miles Davis, even though he’s more verbose. I really love that as much as raw speed can turn me off.

The balance in that lineup is amazing. Each one got his moments, except maybe the bass and guitar from Opus Akoben. Two drummers with different techniques, but never overpowering, and the balance among players came across in the music as well, not exactly Coleman’s stuff, not really hip-hop either, some exploration of things in between and around both.

And of course there was Jen Shyu‘s voice. That alone would have been enough for me. I know it just shows how little I know, but the lack of words just got me into hearing voice as another instrument, stripped of meaning into pure music. It’s only the second time I hear her, but she’s reminding me of how Cynthia Loemij helped me get into dance many years ago, as someone who opens gates for me, letting me get a glimpse of something I didn’t know existed. I mean I knew voice was music, but I never felt it this completely. Anyone who can shut down my mind ranks as very precious to me. Unfortunately, her solo record wasn’t available there, and she probably won’t be touring nearby on her own; I know it’s probably very different, but I sure could use more of that guidance.

After that overpowering show, I was exhilarated and reluctant to go back to the reality of getting back home in the Saturday evening feel of mass transit. So I just went back to stargazing in that park, bookending this escape with other voices gently holding those gates open. Now closed for a while, but there nonetheless.

February 10, 2008 Posted by | Life, Music | , , , | 1 Comment

September 8th, 2007: Steve Coleman & Five Elements feat. Kroger Quartet

@cité de la musique

Wow. I’m awed. I thought Thursday’s gig was the best I had attended in a while, but tonight’s was the best in… maybe like ever. As in brought-me-close-to-tears good.

The string quartet only showed up after a while — I can’t say how long — and brought some nice depth, but it really could not get any better as far as I was concerned. I was completely drawn into the music from the start to the very end. Now I’m at a loss for words, right now, I’m just awestruck.

Anyway, here’s the lineup: Steve Coleman on alto saxophone, Jonathan Finlayson on trumpet, Thomas Morgan on bass, Tyshawn Sorey on drums, Pedro Martinez on percussions — no, not that Pedro, though that name sure sounded funny to my Boston-addicted ears — and Jen Shyu on vocals. She’s beyond amazing, she just blew my mind. I was asked whether her looks played a part in my being so enthralled. I can’t rule it out — how the hell can I know? — but I don’t think so. She sure is beautiful, but I think I would know if that was enough to drive me to such heights of emotion.


Now that I’ve slept on it, maybe I can try and get more articulate. I don’t really think so, though, as this music moved me on a different level, one not familiar with words. Something that struck me is that I could hear each of the individual musicians separately at the same time, and the whole as well, but separate from each one. I had this experience before, but almost only with dance, and never with music. I don’t know whether that was the best gig ever for me, but it sure was a unique experience. Should I hope it’s a breakthrough that means I’ll get this feeling again, or that this remains a high point? I just don’t know. I don’t think I’ll forget it. I do believe this will remain somewhere within me, in that inner place where I can go sometimes and just experience again the best instants dance brought me. I mean it’s up there with the first part of April Me, when I was luckily aligned with Cynthia Loemij’s arms and I felt a lasting splitting. I’m not making any sense, I know that acutely. But this territory is somewhere beyond my knowledge of words, up there with the prism I just can’t bring myself to name to anyone.

Well, that ranting goes to show how hopeless this task is. Words fail me. It just feels great.

I’m tagging this with Life because it was a life-changing event for me.

September 9, 2007 Posted by | Life, Music | , , , , | Leave a comment

September 6th, 2007: The Pro-Verb Trio


Best gig in a while, it was both physically elating and musically challenging. I’m glad I went, even though the reason isn’t good: I traded in a ticket I had for a Joe Zawinul the same day, and that was canceled for health reasons.

Continuing my Coleman week, the Pro-Verb Trio is Steve Coleman on saxophone, Kokayi as MC, and Tyshawn Sorey on drums. It was advertised as a Jazz/Hip-Hop hybrid, but I think it was much closer to Jazz. The MC was often close to singing, his voice in synch with Coleman’s phrases, without words. But there were some fireworks of flow as well.

It was satisfying to me to hear Coleman avoiding pyrotechnics, I was getting weary of these displays of velocity in Jazz. For the most part he was either playing short melodic phrases, anchoring the more free-styling others, or playing less rather than more. Both because he often played softly and because he often played short, isolated notes. I really liked this delivery, cut short in a way; that was new to me, at least on that instrument. And I crave new experiences.

The MC’s flow was impressively fast when he wanted it to me, and he displayed a wide range of styles. And the drummer was relentless. I can’t say it was a regular jazz style, but it felt like it in a way. He was the one displaying the virtuosity I can get tired of, but he was really creative with it. Often the saxophone and voice were repeating a phrase while the drummer went his own way, moving in and out of tempo at will; a refreshing reversal of traditional roles.

There were also more light-hearted and even physically compelling moments, where even I was as close dancing as I get. And I must say it felt good to be in standing in a dark room at a gig for a change. It had only been a month, but I missed that familiar setting.

September 7, 2007 Posted by | Music | , , , , , | Leave a comment

September 3rd, 2007: Steve Coleman “Aquarius Ingress” / Octurn feat. Magic Malik

@cité de la musique

I still have a hard time getting used to being seated, but it was an interesting evening.

Octurn is a collective of nine musicians, and they had added flutist Magic Malik for this event. Not that I felt all that happy they did, as I don’t like his music at all. I could not begin to say why, probably too positive for my gloominess. I felt the guitar was too quiet, lost in these dense layers of sound, but on the whole the ensemble worked most of the time. It even had its great moments, even though I felt their use of electronics could be better. Too obvious at times, too subdued at others.

The main event was Aquarius Ingress, an intriguing project featuring Steve Coleman and Miguel Zenon on saxophone, Ravi Coltrane and Tony Malaby on tenor sax, and Mike McGinnins and Chris Speed on clarinet. Reeds only. I think it worked real well, with a rich sound where all instruments had a chance to shine yet also could play a supporting role. Each of these guys brought a distinct personality, which went a long way to make this unusual lineup a success.

They played long pieces with three duets thrown in (Coleman/Malaby, Zenon/Speed and Coltrane/McGinnins). They were able to keep a strong melodic base while each of them in turn went in his own way, anchoring the whole effortlessly despite the lack of a typical rhythm section. Of course these guys definitely know what they’re doing.

Especially during the first part, which felt the most “written”, I was struck by how American this music was. I was reminded of classical American composers, not just Gershwin but even Copland and Ives. I can’t nail a specific thing, there’s probably actually none, but something in the overall sound felt this way. It’s not the tradition I expected, but it kinda makes sense, as my being European probably makes me more sensitive to what’s common in American composers.

The mastery was impressive, but not overbearing. I enjoyed this, so I do hope I will like the rest of the festival gigs I will attend. My motives for investigating jazz are all wrong, but the result seems OK so far.

September 4, 2007 Posted by | Music | , , , , , , | Leave a comment