Coleman has studied "non-Western" music intensively, and he's constructed his own language from the rhythms of Africa, Cuba, and India. He's also a great alto player, with one of the most beautiful, effulgent tones in jazz. Shyu is his match. At times, when the music of Five Elements calmed down, I wondered what he'd sound like playing "April in Paris," or what she'd do with "Memories of You." But I didn't worry about it too much. The band played for 50 minutes without a break. Then Coleman introduced them and they played one more zippy beboppy line. Coleman scatted syllables that included instructions to the band: "Start in B-flat . . . End up on G." It was fast and funny and furious and came to a cold stop: their pop hit.
There were other wonders throughout the two days. Trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, 28, and his quintet played music as spacious and relaxed as Coleman's was dense and relentless. Though he also likes polyrhythms and odd meters, his band surged in waves of 6/8, cantered in 5, or danced in 3. Akinmusire has a dark, edgy tone, and his tenor saxophonist, Walter Smith III was of the same mind: intensity and forward drive amidst an enveloping serenity.
Not everything new satisfied. I was looking forward to Mostly Other People Do the Killing — a young quartet with an edge as punky as their name. But their music — though highly organized and detailed — was fractured and fragmented. Hard, rocking bass phrases upshifted to doubletime or downshifted to half-time walks that lasted only a few bars. They were all impressive players — bassist and composer Moppa Elliott, alto saxophonist Jon Irabagon, trumpeter Peter Evans, and drummer Kevin Shea. But I kept hoping they'd shift down into one groove and stay there for a bit. Shea's whimsical electronic percussion solo near the end of the set didn't help.
But relief was to be had in pianist Eddie Palmieri laying down one of his deathless medium-tempo montuno vamps for an oustanding octet that included his longtime trumpeter Brian Lynch as well as baritone-sax great Ronnie Cuber and alto Louis Fouche. Another side of Latin jazz came out in Zenón's set (the album is due from Marsalis Music August 30), in which a 10-piece wind ensemble m flutes, French horns, clarinets, oboe — backed his working quartet. Spalding wowed the Quad Stage crowds with duets and a small band with special guests (including Uri Caine). Hiromi got people screaming with her pyrotechnics and an amazing band to help her pull it off — the legendary bassist Anthony Jackson and drummer Simon Phillips (whose day job, currently, is with the Who).
Rudresh Mahanthappa continues his exploration of the links between India and jazz in his Apex group with fellow alto saxophonist Bunky Green, a few decades his senior. Their first three numbers in a closing set on Sunday afternoon were all linked without pause and made for a self-contained suite that explored all manner of dynamics and mood and ended with a ferocious coda. And James Farm proved they're worth every nickel you can muster to see them when they play Berklee on September 23: on a drenched stage Sunday afternoon, they matched their songful sense of structure with bruising solo and ensemble virtuosity.