April 22, 2024

MATANA ROBERTS – “COIN COIN CHAPTER FOUR: MEMPHIS” – shattering poetic vision and powerful jazz

CONSTELLATION RECORDS       18th October 2019

An absolutely fascinating album, combining spoken word, songs, poetry, structured jazz, a country fiddle and freeform jazz. Riveting me to the sound, Matana Roberts weaves fragments of the life of a young black girl into illustrative sax blowing, honking, loose-limbed drumming, accordion drone, pensive improvisation and cacophonic passages. Introducing us to snapshots of family life – running, Daddy, going to church, Roberts revisits pieces in what is almost a cyclic meditation until she unleashes KKK horror on us painfully. The story heard in church about heaven being a place where black people can go where they want and everyone has shoes raises the hairs on my neck.

The band’s playing is like a less-drilled Magic Band, as heard on Trout Mask Replica. The looseness is a strength. Matana Roberts makes a point in her album series (confession: I’ve only heard this one) of focussing on the lives of women and the black experience in America. She digs deep – first into researching the lived experience of history and second into her feelings. The latter creates chants, repetition, bits of folk song, recitative, incantation, spirituals and free improvisation. Matana’s sax and clarinet play important parts and the improvisational elements are helped by the involvement of Sam Shalabi, whose work via Dwarfs Of East Agouza and Land Of Kush showed a complex East-West improvisational interaction.

Roberts describes the piece accurately in saying: “As an arts adventurer dealing w/ the medium of sound and its many contradictions I am most interested in endurance, perseverance, migration, liberation, libation, improvisation and the many layers of cognitive dissonance therein as it relates to my birth country’s history. I speak memory, I sing an american survival through horn, song, sadness, a sometimes gladness. I stand on the backs of many people, from so many different walks of life and difference, that never had a chance to express themselves as expressively as I have been given the privilege. In these sonic renderings, I celebrate the me, I celebrate the we, in all that it is now, and all that is yet to come or will be… Thanks for listening.”

This is a complex and many-layered construction. Despite having story woven through, this is first of all a jazz album and is something that can be listened to repeatedly, each visit highlighting new elements of the music. The series title, ‘Coincoin’ refers to her ancestral connection to a freed slave of that name and the girl whose story is told is part of that bloodline. This set is spiritual and powerful – musically as well as lyrically – the power of the spiritual song built into ‘her mighty waters run’ belies the depths of despair it was composed to combat. Through cathartic story-telling, uplifting ‘found’ songs and inspired jazz, Roberts lifts, illuminates and shines ‘this little light of mine’ onto the collective soul.


About Author