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Album Review: Steve Coleman's 'Harvesting Semblances and Affinities'

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Steve Coleman Five Elements Harvesting Semblances and Affinities Album
Courtesy of Pi Recordings
Saxophonist Steve Coleman’s Harvesting Semblances and Affinities, according to Coleman, is the “musical realization of temporal impressions.” Throughout his distinguished career, Coleman has sought to look beyond conventional musical structures in order to symbolize matters of physical and intellectual experience.

His abstruse methods tend to produce music whose warmth is tucked neatly away, veiled behind jarring and intriguing rhythms. However, Harvesting Semblances and Affinities successfully brings mood to the forefront without sacrificing individualism or structural rigor. Joining Coleman are trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson, trombonist Tim Albright, vocalist Jen Shyu, bassist Thomas Morgan, and drummer Tyshawn Sorey, who contribute equally to the contemplative allure of the album.

The opening track, “Attilla 02 (Dawning Ritual)” begins with the entire ensemble engaged in a springy rhythmic cycle over a drone, creating immediate tension and anticipation. Coleman, Finlayson, and Albright play solos with agitated outpouring, matched by Shyu’s yearning vocalese.

“Beba” swings and flounces playfully. The horns and vocals interject backgrounds to Coleman’s solo with lilting phrases, mimicking conversation. The exchanges build up to collective exclamations that punctuate Sorey’s laughing drum solo. The humorous discussion climaxes with counterpoint that layers droll melodies with pointed jabs.

All of the tracks on Harvesting Semblances and Affinities are Coleman originals, with the exception of “Flos Ut Rosa Floruit,” a piece by Per Nørgård, a Danish composer who shares Coleman’s taste for mathematically-based musical material. Coleman’s arrangement contains a surprising degree of consonance and soft-spoken beauty, which Shyu emphasizes with aching sighs.

To casual listeners, Coleman’s body of work poses a distinct challenge. It tends to be both cold and intricate. However, the music of Harvesting Semblances and Affinities is executed with sensitivity to common musical moods in addition to the underlying structures, and the result is both moving and fascinating.

Release Date:

June 8th, 2010 on Pi Recordings


  • Steve Coleman – Alto Saxophone
  • Jonathan Finlayson – Trumpet
  • Tim Albright – Trombone
  • Jen Shyu – Vocals
  • Thomas Morgan – Bass
  • Tyshawn Sorey – Drums
  • Marcus Gilmore – Drums on “Flos Ut Rosa Floruit”
  • Ramón Garcia Pérez – Percussion on “Flos Ut Rosa Floruit”


  1. Attila 02 (Dawning Ritual)
  2. Beba
  3. Clouds
  4. 060706-2319 (Middle of Water)
  5. Flos Ut Rosa Floruit
  6. Attila 04 (Closing Ritual)
  7. Vernal Equinox 040320-0149 (Initiation)
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