Adegoke Steve Colson – Tones For

adegoke steve colson tones for

Title: Tones For

Artist: Adegoke Steve Colson

Label: Silver Sphinx

Release Date: Nov 20, 2015

Format: CD, MP3



It is difficult to describe the music of Adegoke Steve Colson in its own terms, in large part due to the pianist’s complex and abstract approach to playing and composing.  Colson’s newest release, Tones For, is his first solo piano record in a long and storied career, and reflects a stance that is simultaneously cerebral and activist.  This is no doubt influenced by Colson’s affiliation with the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), a Chicago-based organization dedicated to creating “Great Black Music” and which has consistently developed excellent avant-garde jazz throughout its 50 years.  Colson takes this spirit to heart on Tones For, an album that is simultaneously abstract and programmatic.  Writing and performing an all-instrumental album dedicated to–and ostensibly about–three seminal figures in black history–Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, and Frederick Douglass–seems like a gargantuan task.  Colson has met this challenge with an expansive 2-CD set, a collection of recordings that depend upon music defined by ambiance and dynamics, ranging from subdued and contemplative on “Inner Quiet” to the stormy textures of “Homage,” which is dedicated “to all those who stood up for justice.”

Despite the fact that they are abstractions themselves, it is difficult to make themes of resistance and freedom take shape in terms of musical sound, and it would be hard for me to–as Vijay Iyer does in the album’s liner notes–assert that this music “embodies resistance.”  What Colson’s music does in many instances, however, is challenge our notions of how we may express ideas about our heroes or the concepts of resistance and freedom themselves.  While it may seem that the atmospheres that Colson creates on Tones For have little to do with these themes as such, Colson’s abstraction and persistent thematic assertions may cause us to question how the music of resistance or freedom may sound.  This challenging music may lead us to explore these themes in powerful and compelling ways which transcend the sloganeering that characterizes much “socially-conscious” music.

Reviewed by Matthew Alley