A cursory glance at the title quickly clarifies that this is not a Jack McDuff reissue. Iconoclastic jazz altoist/composer Steve Coleman clearly has no interest in affecting an easily accessible veneer, and why should he? While Coleman’s music is layered and technically rigorous, it is also entirely too bright and propulsive to be dismissed as obscurantist.
Harvesting Semblances and Affinities just might be Coleman’s strongest work yet, masterfully utilizing a talented sextet of the composer’s closest musical allies. If the music breathes more easily than on previous Coleman efforts, credit drummer Tyshawn Sorey, who can make the densest metrical matrix feel persuasive and musical.
The opener, “Attila 02 (Dawning),” arrives in bracing fashion, with Coleman’s brisk ascending cue-phrase igniting a coiled groove, insistent horn chords, and a soaring vocal melody. The group proceeds to run the thematic material through several tempo options, with solo statements emerging and probing the composed material.
The wordless vocalizing of Jen Shyu is a particularly striking element. On the gorgeous “Flos Ut Rosa Floruit,” she provides a solid center amidst a thicket of surging horn lines. Coleman brilliantly integrates Shyu with his instrumentalists, underlining the equality of roles with many instances of Shyu comping and providing backgrounds for horn soloists.
Coleman is not particularly interested in standard soloist and rhythm section architecture, and moments wherein the entire ensemble is not involved are relatively rare. While this approach can result in listener fatigue, there are enough moments of textural respite, such as the sparse trumpet/bass introduction to the lovely “Clouds,” to make this album a solid success. (Pi. Recordings)