For some time now, I have wanted to write a post in praise of the great, great saxophonist and composer Steve Coleman. Coleman is the founder of a jazz movement called M-Base (Coleman dislikes the labeling of music, and would probably not approve of his music being called Jazz), and these days, Coleman seems to be the musical movement called M-Base.
I would strongly encourage you to visit his website, where he talks a great deal about how his music works, and what M-Base is and isn’t. I’ve been listening to his recordings for nearly 20 years, and I remain fascinated by his approach. His music is incredibly harmonically sophisticated and complex, yet direct, urgent and extremely funky. He tackles tough subjects unflinchingly, and his whole musical output seems grounded to a central core of deeply held philosophical ideas.
It is the kind of music that is singularly ill-served by our modern media. Complex, confrontational, and challenging art (not to mention art that is Afro-centric in its outlook) is not something most corporations are going to help bring to the public. We talk a lot about how the internet can or should counterbalance this, by democratizing the distribution of content. Sadly, though, we seem to mostly be using the internet as a tool for spreading ringtones (M-base ringtones would actually be very cool, but somewhat perverse). There are thousands of videos of people’s cats on YouTube, but as of Friday, none of Steve Coleman.
Anyway, that’s my small part for the cause. One of these days, when I have the right band, I’ll see if I can convince Steve to compose something for himself and orchestra.
You can listen to most of his recorded output here.
More on M-Base here