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M-Base Collective



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M-Base (short for “macro-basic array of structured extemporization”) is a concept of how to create modern music which reached its peak in the mid-to-late-80s and early 90s. It was also a word used to reference a collective of musicians, poets and dancers in this same time period who were associated with the movement. M-Base is often seen as a kind of jazz, but, strictly speaking, this is not entirely accurate, and the participants do not view M-Base in this manner.

M-Base is built on the innovations of Charlie Parker, John Coltrane and especially the free funk of Ornette Coleman’s electric bands, along with many other spontaneous composers. It is also influenced by the rhythmic innovations of many of the groups led by singer James Brown, as well as having direct roots in West African Music and West African cultural and philosophical ideas. One of its most noticeable musical traits is the innovative use of overlapping rhythmic cycles of various lengths inside of which the participants improvise, giving the music an unpredictable form. Other characteristics are curvilinear melodic elements, non-standard harmonic structures coupled with a mastery of improvisation based on these forms, resulting in a decidedly non-western cultural and philosophical bent.

Some of the main exponents of this concept in the 1980s – 1990s were saxophonist Steve Coleman (whose present style is an extension of these ideas), saxophonist Greg Osby, trombonist Robin Eubanks, saxophonist Gary Thomas, pianist Tim Murphy, and singer Cassandra Wilson, who are all still active in music performing and recording.

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