Picks and Pans Review: Rhythm People

updated 02/04/1991 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/04/1991 AT 01:00 AM EST

Steve Coleman and Five Elements

This is music intended to challenge your mind as well as make you shake your, uh, faith. While some young jazz musicians seem content to mimic the work of past masters, alto saxophonist Coleman and his band of groove masters dare to explore new improvisational frontiers. Subtitled The Resurrection of Creative Black Civilization, the album is an in-your-face reminder that jazz is at root a revolutionary—not a nostalgic—art form.

Coleman's compositions are packed with complex harmonies, and his Five Elements posse swaggers to an insistent, but constantly shifting, funk pulse. Guitarist David Gilmore, bassist Reggie Washington and keyboardist James Weidman are plugged in and ready to boogie. The music, in fact, has a boom-box bottom guaranteed to offend retro-jazz snobs. On the other hand, funksters accustomed to the mindless drone of drum machines may give themselves hernias trying to maneuver their booties to the pickpocket cross rhythms of drummer Marvin "Smitty" Smith.

What makes this session extraordinary is the explosive interplay between Smith and Coleman. Propelled by Smith's kick-it backbeats, Coleman weaves sinuous alto lines that crackle. Trying his hand at rap on "No Conscience." Coleman verbalizes the insurrectionist message embodied in his music. "As we step into the 21 st century," he proclaims, "we need...rhythm by any means necessary, shaping another realm." (RCA-Novus)

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