The sign by the front door at the Blue Whale reads “Steve Coleman Advanced Intensive Workshop,” reflecting the goal of the famed alto saxist. This month Coleman has been donating his time and energies in Los Angeles going to schools and doing workshops at the downtown club, and if the concert that he and his working band delivered Wednesday night is any type of a reflection of what is being taught, the students can join with the fans at the 9pm show with Coleman bringing gifts from afar. Not a bad reflection of the Christmas season!
For the opening “Acupuncture,” the front line of Coleman with Jonathan Finlayson/tp and Maria Grand/ts formed intricate unison lines while the rhythm team of Sean Rickman/dr, Anthony Tidd/b and Miles Ozaki/g created angular and kinetic patterns, the combination mixing New Orleans Second Line with the Change of the Century.
Coleman’s alto was clear, warm and rich as he delivered a solo aria to introduce “Formation” which eventually had the two other horns weave in and out of the melody in a fugue-like counterpoint, creating a tense tug of war between the trio of horns while Tidd and Rickman dug in deep with an assertive groove and the horns joining in with rhythmic riffs, ending up like an audible car chase scene before Coleman closed the them as he opened it.
On “Nine to Go,” a rivulet of percussion and thunderous pulsations snapped underneath Finlayson’s warm horn; when Coleman joined up to with him, the two stallions stampeded together like a stage coach race, with Grand’s tenor riding the whip as the team the galloped to the finish line.
Ozaki then let his lithe guitar take the spotlight with a lyrical and thoughtful intro to a melancholy read of “Body and Soul” Finlayson’s trumpet eked out for a sweet abstraction and TIdd delivered a reflective drapery before Coleman closed the piece like Mariano Rivera.
The team closed with a medley of “Wheel of Nature” sequeing into “Pad Thai,” mixing a funky rhythm groove offering more punctuation than an English teacher, with the three horns mixing cries of declaration and long tones before the frantic climax evoked images of a Carl Stalling cartoon, with Rickman’s cymbal driving like a hummingbird wing before. The fact that Coleman and his band could make music this intricate, expressive and yet still accessible without being self indulgent is a fitting advertisement for attending his workshop.