The Tao of Mad Phat

(Fringes Zones)

The Tao of Mad Phat CD Cover

Linner Notes

On the other hand, the composer himself, when he is the performer of his own composition, does not always perform his work in exactly the same way. Why? Because he lives; because perpetual variability is a trait of a living creature’s character.

(Bela Bartok: Mechanical Music. 1937)

The above quote is even more applicable to a Steve Coleman and Five Elements performance, especially when that performance is live in front of an audience. These are the conditions under which the latest Steve Coleman and Five Elements album The Tao of Mad Phat was recorded.

For this form of African-American music communication is the main focus. Steve wanted to capture this very important ingredient in a commercial recording years ago, as most of the music he grew up listening to and was heavily influenced by was live music. Musically and spiritually this band performs very different when other people are present to share in the experience. In Steve’s own words:

The Tao of Mad Phat differs from the concepts of the earlier Five Elements albums in that the music on this album was performed live before a studio audience. The main intention is not so much the realization of a commercially perfect project, but the documentation of the living process expressed through music. The way the band performs “live” has been pretty much a separate development from the way we play on recordings. We realized some time ago that some of the things we do in concert, like the collective meditations concept, have not been documented on recordings. This concept involves restructuring either our own music or that of others by changing basic rhythmic, melodic, and emotional aspects using intuitive-logic, then spontaneously merging the altered music with other music which has been similarly restructured.’

‘This music is about our experiences in every day life. It is a living music. We are very influenced by many of the styles and creations of music from the past and present but we are most concerned with the expression of our lives, as this is what we know best. We don’t want to imitate other music, we don’t even want to imitate ourselves. Music for us is a way of communicating experiences using the abstract language of organized sounds.’

The Tao of Mad Phat refers to the ‘way of life’ of Mad Phat, a fictional character that represents the personification of the ‘attitude’ in the music being heard on that particular performance and on the album as a whole. The emotional, spiritual, intuitional and technical elements used in the musical performances are creative extrapolations of the same elements used by the musicians in the every day living process. The boarders or fringe zones where these elements converge are enigmatic areas that explore a logic beyond words. This is indeed a living music.


The musicians included in this session are Five Elements members Steve Coleman (alto saxophone), Andy Milne (piano/keyboards), David Gilmore (guitar), Reggie Washington (electric bass), and Oliver Gene Lake Jr. (drums and percussion). Special guests for this project are Roy Hargrove (trumpet), Josh Roseman (trombone), Kenny Davis (bass), Matthew Garrison (electric bass) and Junior “Gabu” Wedderburn (percussion). Joe Marciano (recording and mix engineer). Recorded May 6, 7, and 23, 1993 in Brooklyn NY.

Track List

  1. The Tao Of Mad Phat 15:29
  2. Alt-Shift-Return 07:10
  3. Collective Meditations I (Suite):
    – Guards On The Train 03:04
    – Relax Your Guard 00:39
    – All The Guards There Are 02:10
    – Enter The Rhythm (People) 04:04
    – Changing Of The Guard 03:56
  4. Incantation 03:56
  5. Laid Back Schematics 08:15
  6. Polymad Nomads 10:36
  7. Little Girl On Fire 16:31


Music available on the downloads page.