Chicago's alto saxophonist Steve Coleman (1956) relocated to New York in 1978
and in 1984 was instrumental in starting the M-Base Collective.
His solo debut, Motherland Pulse (march 1985), was the first manifestation of the concept (it also featured pianist Geri Allen, vocalist Cassandra Wilson and trumpeter Graham Haynes).
The M-Base Collective truly came into its own when Coleman
formed the Five Elements (with vocalist Cassandra Wilson, trumpeter Graham Haynes, electronic keyboardist Geri Allen, guitarist Kelvyn Bell, a bassist and two percussionists) and released On the Edge of Tomorrow (january 1986),
the manifesto of Coleman's non-Western forms of musical expression, in
particular his indifference towards the time signature. The idea was repeated
with less imagination on World Expansion (november 1986) and Sine Die (january 1988), despite the fact that they featured pretty much the same crowd (Wilson, Allen, Bell, Haynes, trombonist Robin Eubanks, bass, drums on the former, plus saxophonists Branford Marsalis, Greg Osby and Gary Thomas on the latter).
Steve Coleman's music sounded simply like an update to the 1990s of Ornette Coleman's harmelodic jazz of the 1980s.
Different combinations of instruments (some including Dave Holland on bass)
did not fare any better on Rhythm People (february 1990).
The "official" M-Base Collective debut albums, both credited to the
Strata Institute (basically a loose group led by Coleman and Osby), Cypher Sintax (april 1988) and Transmigration (january 1991), were actually
less representative of the movement. Coleman's involvement was marginal on
their third album, this time credited directly to the M-Base Collective,
Anatomy of a Groove (january 1992).
Though still lacking memorable numbers, Black Science (december 1990)
was a mature formalization of Coleman's aesthetic.
The first M-Base album featuring all-acoustic piano
(James Weidman), besides bass (Dave Holland), guitar and drums,
it supported the funky improvisation of the leader with
multi-layered rhythmic cycles (more or less inspired by West African music),
and it ervolutionized the concept of tempo,
each instrumentalist playing in a different meter.
The result was a neurotic form of funk music, but less jarring than in the
After the inferior Drop Kick (january 1992), Coleman reached another
M-Base zenith on Tao of Mad Phat (may 1993), a set of lengthy
live improvisations in the studio with more regular meters (Tao of Mad Phat, Collective Meditations, Polymaid Nomads for tentet, Little Girl on Fire).
Influenced by a trip to West Africa and ever more spiritual in nature, Coleman refined his anti-Western jazz on Def Trance Beat (june 1994)
the EP A Tale of 3 Cities (1994), credited to the Metrics (alto, tenor, piano, trumpet, bass, drums and samples) but merely a rap-jazz experiment,
and on the (uneven) trilogy derived from one live event:
Myths Modes and Means (march 1995), credited to the Mystic Rhythm
Society (sax, trumpet, koto, bass, percussion, keyboards) and containing
three colossal improvisations (Finger Of God, Song of the Beginnings, Transits),
The Way of The Cipher (march 1995), credited to the Metrics (mostly rap tunes),
and Curves of Life (march 1995), credited to the Five Elements but performed
by a keyboards-based quartet and containing two more lengthy improvisations
(Muliplicity of Approaches and Country Bama).
Despite the pretentious titles, the music was mostly light-weight funk-jazz.
The Afro-Cuban album The Sign and The Seal (february 1996), a collaboration with a Cuban band, added the Latin ingredient to the stew, again under the pretense of a new theory of music.
The metaphysical element was better expressed on the eight-movement suite Genesis (june 1997), a concept on the seven Biblical days of the Creation for an orchestra (the Council of Balance) featuring a massive horn section (six saxophones, three trumpets, five trombones), a string section (viola, cello, violin), guitar, piano, bass, drums, ethnic percussions.
Likewise the seven lengthy movements of The Sonic Language of Myth - Believing Learning Knowing (may 1999), thanks to the tension between the shamanic vocals and the timbral counterpoint of horns, vibraphone, piano and strings.
After a long period of travel, Coleman resumed his Five Elements project with
the austere The Ascension To Light (june 1999),
the live double-CD Resistance is Futile (august 2001), featuring a mid-size band and extended funk-jazz jams (Resistance is Futile, Wheel Of Nature, 9 to 5),
the demonstrative Alternate Dimension Series I (march 2002),
the lightweight On the Rising of the 64 Paths (april 2002),
Lucidarium (may 2003), that toyed with different combinations of instruments and voices,
the ambitious double-CD Weaving Symbolics (may 2005),
Harvesting Semblances And Affinities (october 2006 and february 2007),
and The Mancy Of Sound (july 2007) that mainly contains the colossal Ifá Suite, originally composed for vocalist Cassandra Wilson.
alternating retreats to fusion music and great leap fowards into uncharted
all of them dedicated to pompous pseudo-pantheistic philosophical theories.
The Five Elements returned with
Functional Arrhythmias (2013), featuring
trumpetist Jonathan Finlayson and guitarist Miles Okazaki.
Harvesting Semblances And Affinities (2010) was recorded in 2006 with the Five Elements (Jonathan Finlayson on trumpet, Tim Albright on trombone, Jen Shyu on vocals, Thomas Morgan on bass, Tyshawn Sorey on drums, Marcus Gilmore on drums and Ramon Garcia Perez on drums).
Council of Balance's
Synovial Joints (december 2014)
gathered 21 musicians, including
Jonathan Finlayson (trumpet), Marcus Gilmore (drums), Jen Shyu (vocals),
Miles Okazaki (guitar), David Bryant (piano), Tim Albright (trombone),
Maria Grand (tenor saxophone) and Anthony Tidd (bass).
Coleman's Natal Eclipse project released Morphogenesis
(september 2016) with
Jonathan Finlayson (trumpet), Maria Grand (tenor sax) and Jen Shyu (vocals), plus Rane Moore (clarinet), Kristin Lee (violin), Matt Mitchell (piano) Greg Chudzik (bass) and Neeraj Mehta (percussion).
The double-disc set Live At The Village Vanguard, Vol. 1 (The Embedded Sets) (may 2017) as the Elements' first album in 15 years (Anthony Tidd on bass, Sean Rickman on drums, Miles Okazaki on guitar and Jonathan Finlayson on trumpet).
Live At The Village Vanguard Volume II (may 2018) documents another live
show by the Five Elements,
replacing guitarist Miles Okazaki with is rapper Kokayi.
Coleman has also been active in the realm of interactive computer software.