Where do we look for the hot new jazz? It can come from out of the blue, like the alto sax of New York’s Darius Jones. It can be international, with graceful Asian players imported to the cities of American jazz. It can come from players who were hot all along, from the ’60s and ’70s. Players might disappear after they have made their major statements. There are also unique cases where a veteran can pull a rabbit out of a hat, and he equals, or even transcends, his whole career.
Adegoke Steve Colson (Adegoke means king) is an unsung master. He joined the Association for the Advancement of Creative Music (AACM), the most powerful organization in jazz, in the early 1970s in Chicago, after graduating from Northwestern. Singer Iqua Colson, his wife, was the first woman member of the organization.
Colson is a team player. On the records I have played, which I acquired when I interviewed him six years ago, he approaches the unit as a whole, quietly, but geometrically and fluidly, stepping about the spirals of the brass and reeds, shifting the nature of the percussion and bass lines. Tones For, his new release, for solo grand piano, is a departure.
Part of his legacy is in major civil rights. In 1971, he occupied the Bursar’s office at Northwestern, a year after the Kent State massacre. There were just under a hundred black students at the university at the time, and he and six friends planned the occupation of the building, Colson and his friend Andre going into the underground tunnels and mapping them out so that, when the National Guard came, the doors were chained.
Every black student participated, and Colson and four other black students had chains around them when they came out. The operation had massive ramifications, changing the nature of Black studies in North American universities.
Typical of Colson, he never mentions this, unless you press him. But Tones For is a tribute to his mothers and fathers in Black liberation history. “Sister Moses” is Harriet Tubman, Underground Railroad heroine, and the only woman known to have led American troops in war. Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass are also part of the picture and tribute. The CD folds open with notes on each song, tracing the significance of the heroes’ and heroine’s contributions the cause of Black freedom.
Tones For is quirky, deep, emotional, and passionate, strange for something so formal and disciplined. On one level, this is a modest offering: a mature, solo statement on the history of human rights. But that’s huge by its nature. As the theme crosses the ages, do the strains of influence, and the touches of style. You can hear the dark pastels of Muhal Richard Abrams, (AACM founder), the stride of Fats Waller, and the flourishes of Teddy Wilson. With its expansive progression and development, it belies its sectioning in songs, becoming unfettered and exploratory.
The work is in two volumes. Right away when Iqua sent me the CD, and I was looking at the notes and list of titles, I knew this was an instant masterpiece, and the music creates twisting moods and thoughts, like you’re in the torchlight of the underground tunnels themselves.
Only Adegoke has been there. He is a civil rights hero, the platinum of American achievement. Colson has illustrious associations, drummer Andrew Cyrille, and bassist Reggie Workman, and also Art Ensemble of Chicago members. So many of the records he has appeared on with them have escaped radar. This one shouldn’t fall through the cracks. It should put him in the jazz canon forever, like his associates.