The Overlooked AACM:
Steve and Iqua Colson


Steve Colson & The Unity Troupe
Silver Sphinx : 1980

SC, piano and voice; Iqua Colson, voice; Wallace McMillan, tenor sax; Reggie Willis, bass; Dushun Mosley, percussion.

The Colson Unity Troupe
No Reservation
Black Saint : 1980

SC, piano; Iqua Colson, voice; Wallace LaRoy McMillan, soprano sax; Reggie Willis, bass; Dushun Mosley, percussion.

Steve Colson
The Untarnished Dream
Silver Sphinx : 2010

SC, piano; Reggie Workman, bass; Andrew Cyrille, drums.

The AACM has spawned a host of brilliant jazz musicians including Henry Threadgill, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Anthony Braxton, and Wadada Leo Smith. The organization’s moniker is virtually shorthand for quality music that’s conceptually rigorous, steeped in musical tradition, forward-thinking, and freewheeling. There are many fine musicians associated with the AACM who still haven’t received their due. At the top of that list is the husband and wife team of Steve and Iqua Colson.

That’s starting to change. Soul Jazz recently selected their cult classic Triumph! to appear in the coffee table book of avant jazz album covers Freedom Rhythm & Sound. They included the track “Lateen” on the accompanying comp and plan to reissue the entire album later this year. The Colsons recently released a new album, The Untarnished Dream,  which has been receiving rave reviews.

We’re pleased to offer a mini-retrospective of the Colsons’ work that spans a wonderfully wiggy ensemble piece spiked with vocals (“Triumph of the Outcasts”), beautifully knotty solo piano (“Temple at Dendera”), a more straight-ahead tribute that showcases vocals (“Thought for Duke”), and a richly abstract song that highlights compositional acumen and instrumental interactions (“Parallel Universe”).

The Colsons were also gracious enough to answer some questions for us, providing more insight into their musical inspirations and future plans.

Adegoke Steve Colson:
Our recorded music is meant to give a sampling of our repertoire, so we try to offer a wide range of our material. But we play with some wonderful musicians and they are inspirational themselves, so sometimes we are influenced by the players. In terms of this latest CD, Reggie Workman and Andrew Cyrille have been influential and inspirational, and they definitely caused us to consider our musical choices for this project.

Iqua Colson:
We have written tributes to individuals or dedicated to people who have influenced us personally, i.e., “Thought from Duke” (Ellington and Muhal) and  “Teachers/World Heroes” for Steve’s  early piano teacher Henry Smith. There is no shortage of ideas. The music ranges from free to song form  – collaborative improvisation based on traditional and non traditional notation –  to pieces where the head- solo format works for us – but it is always our creative expression of what we hear or want to explore.

We have both listened to lots of music of all types: choral music, instrumental, opera, modern, etc. In addition to artists like Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, or Sarah Vaughan, we studied Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Bartok, Hindemith, Nathaniel Dett, and others of that stature. Blues, Gospel, R&B, Rock, Broadway Musicals, Pop, you name it. In addition to Andrew and Reggie we have also been fortunate to know and work with musicians such as members of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Steve McCall, Muhal Richard Abrams, George Lewis, Max Roach, Henry  Threadgill, Leroy Jenkins, Hannibal Marvin Peterson, Amina Meyers, Leo Smith, and others who have always been advanced conceptually and have incorporated music from various cultures into their own compositions and performances. These experiences have given us tons of ideas about music and have helped us to draw from many traditions.

You never really know where the work will lead – you just do your work – your music. We did our first album on our label Silver Sphinx in 1980. Fall 2008 we learned it was selling on eBay for $200-$300 – and we still had a few in or possession. Then in summer 2009 Soul Jazz Records out of London approached us about including the album cover in their coffee table book Freedom Rhythm & Sound and including us in a CD and vinyl compilation with the same name. Now they will reissue the entire album. This 30 year old recording took on its own revival and being a part of the book and compilation puts us in the company with many creative artists with similar artistic values.

Our sons are grown and living their lives so we are back to having the focus primarily on our own short- and long-term projects day to day. We’d like to do more work with Steve’s orchestra. So far that has been the collaboration with writers Amiri Baraka and Richard Wesley that is in tribute to Dr. King entitled “…as in a Cultural Reminiscence…” and the all star orchestra that presented  “Greens, Rice and a Rope” as a part of New Music America. That work included. We did a concert in NYC years ago featuring an octet – Eighth Tone Dimology –  that people are still talking about so we are looking into releasing some of the music from that date.

There are a number of artists who we’d like to work with within and outside of the AACM – we’re planning to build on a great concert we did in Chicago at Fred Anderson’s Velvet Lounge with long-time Chicago compatriots Dushun Mosley and Ernest Khabeer Dawkins. We’ve started thinking about the next CD too: that project is already underway and will be more of a feature for Iqua; we have several of the pieces right now. We are also collaborating with a couple of great writers and visual artists on potential projects, and have traded some ideas with David Murray who I worked with regularly 20 years ago. So the work continues.

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For more on the Colsons’ history with the AACM, do consult George E. Lewis’ magisterial history of the organization, A Power Stronger than Itself. And finally, why not treat yourself to a download of No Reservation, now at Amazon for less than $5.00.

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