The M-Base Collective was more than a "band". It was a collaborative group of musicians, choreographers dancers, poets, writers and other artists that shared a vision and resources. M-Base created a new model for the performing arts in and around New York City in the through the 1980s. Members joined and left M-Base on a highly mutable and fluid basis. Not all members appear on all albums. The most continuous and consistent member was alto saxophonist Steve Coleman.
The term "M-Base" is used in several ways. In the 1980s, a loose collective of young African-American musicians including Steve Coleman, Graham Haynes, Cassandra Wilson, Geri Allen, Robin Eubanks, and Greg Osby emerged in Brooklyn with a new sound and specific ideas about creative expression. Using a term coined by Steve Coleman, they called these ideas "M-Base-concept" (short for "macro-basic array of structured extemporization") and critics have used this term to categorize this scene’s music as a jazz style. But Coleman stressed "M-Base" doesn’t denote a musical style but a way of thinking about creating music. As famous musicians did in the past, he also refuses the word "jazz" as a label for his music and the music tradition represented by musicians like John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Louis Armstrong, etc. However, the musicians of the M-Base movement, which also included dancers and poets, strived for common creative musical languages, so their early recordings show a lot of similarities reflecting their common ideas, the experiences of working together, and their similar cultural background. To label this kind of music, jazz critics have established the word "M-Base" as a jazz style for lack of a better term, distorting its original meaning.