Saxophonist Steve Coleman first hit the scene in the mid 80’s with his personal take on funk-jazz that he called M Base funk. Coleman’s M Base vision was modern and urban, with spiky angular rhythms that interconnected in ways that pushed the funk into avant-garde deep waters. By the time we get to 1995’s live set, “Myths Modes and Means”, Coleman’s music has expanded into an eclectic collage of sounds that owes as much to older African traditions than funk, fusion or jazz. Yet, it is this use of classical African sounds that puts “Myths, Modes and Means” on the forefront of today’s music scene, more than just jazz or fusion, this is African music for the new century.
It is a colorful ensemble that Coleman presents on here, Steve mans the sax chair while trumpeter Ralph Alessi joins, or battles him on trumpet. Two keyboardists (Andy Milne and a then new to the scene Vijay Iyer) provide piano and tasteful synthesizer, while two percussionists (Rameesh Shotham and Josh Jones) provide rhythms from India and Africa. Rapper/poet Kokayi adds occasional hyper verbal assaults that work great with the music. We’ve all heard bad attempts at mixing jazz and rap, but there is none of that nonsense on here, Kokayi’s lyrics are tough, rhythmic, real and improvised on the spot. All of this is anchored by the hard rhythm section of Reggie Washington on bass and Gene Lake on drums. The icing on the cake is the Koto playing of Miya Masaoka. A couple lengthy tunes on here open with solo Koto playing, and the Koto’s sound and scales set a mood that stretches back many centuries. The Koto is not exactly an African instrument, but it fits really well, filling in for Egyptian instruments that disappeared over the years.
The music on here is just as eclectic as the instruments that are used. There is plenty of Coleman’s hard edged abstract funk, but there also moments when Coleman produces sounds on the sax that mix with the percussionists in a way that recalls field recordings of classical African music. On “Song of the Beginnings” a string synthesizer is used to solo over African percussion, furthering the idea Afro-Futurism. You won’t find too many more albums that can logically mix somber solo Koto playing with hard-edged hip-hop. There is so much music on here, its hard to believe this is just one CD. Wth three ‘epic’ 20 minute plus African odysseys, plus four more potent shorter tracks, this album seems like a three LP gatefold set from the 70s.