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Jazz - Released September 30, 2013 | Constellation

Mississippi Moonchile is the second chapter in saxophonist and composer Matana Roberts' projected 12-part work, Coin Coin, which examines race, class, gender and personal experience through the prism of American history. The first chapter, Gens de Couleur Libre, was a large-scale offering, combining out jazz with narrated and sung sections that commenced at the dawn of slavery on North America's shores through the Civil War. It was at once moving, arresting, provocative, and militant, combining histories and mythologies personal, actual and spiritual. By contrast, Mississippi Moonchile was composed with her New York sextet in mind. The ensemble -- Roberts (saxophone), Shoko Nagai (piano), Jason Palmer (trumpet), Thomson Kneeland (double bass), Tomas Fujiwara (drums), and Jeremiah Abiah (an operatic tenor) -- delivers a wildly creative, contrasting, and wide-ranging musical theater performance that embodies three folk songs and 15 original compositions, narration, chorus and solo singing, divided into 18 sections yet played as a continuous whole. The music often reflects the origins of blues and jazz from the Delta and New Orleans, but is woven seamlessly with modern sounds (the meld of gospel, blues, and modal music in "Humility Draws Down Blue" is the epitome of "art music" rooted in American folk traditions and Latin sounds), scat singing, post-bop, and Abiah's gorgeous voice anchoring nearly every cut. Roberts' horn more readily reflects her speaking and singing voices here; it is much warmer and calmer. It reflects blues because it comes straight out of them. Palmer's trumpet is informed by bop and hard bop; it closely follows her lines and underscores them. Nagai's piano builds bridges between various musical traditions and players. Check the meld of briefly articulated free playing, blues, and swing in "Twelve Sighed," which moves briefly toward modal jazz. The use of "Frère Jacques" in "River Ruby Dues" comes out of "My Lord What a Morning," with Abiah offering Roberts' own melody wordlessly as she blows a quote from Coltrane's "Meditations." She showcases the legacy of her studies with the AACM at the beginning of "Responsory," as Abiah delivers her words. Roberts and Palmer trade lines on the outer fringes of the melody as the rhythm section walks a tightrope between; a minute and a half in, it erupts into a gorgeous, slow, King Oliver-inspired blues. The music allows Abiah's mellifluous voice and Roberts' singing and speaking, a warm, inviting space. Her flow of personal narration in "Was the Sacred Day" offers Christian prayers, entries from her grandmother's (the muse of the title) diaries, and sung fragments of "Motherless Child"; the effect is riveting. Even in its relative gentleness, Mississippi Moonchile asks more provocative questions than its predecessor--offering a view of family history and the struggles in juxtaposing thwe African American Experience with "freedom" inside the American Dream. Both albums are parts of a coded memorial quilt, that critically examines the racist design of "official" history, even as it reveals attempts to sublimate it in the veneer of the present era. ~ Thom Jurek

Jazz - Released July 8, 2019 | Constellation


Alternative & Indie - Released May 10, 2011 | Constellation

Chicago-born, New York-based alto saxophonist and composer Matana Roberts made waves with her debut, The Chicago Project, in 2008, and earlier this year with her Live in London set issued by Barry Adamson's Central Control imprint. Coin Coin Chapter One: Les Gens de Couleur Libres on Constellation, is the opening salvo in a projected 12-part musical statement, and stands apart in her catalog. The large 16-piece ensemble was recorded in a Montreal studio live in front of a small audience. Roberts plays various reeds and vocalizes; she is accompanied by a stellar cast of musicians playing everything from horns and strings to electric looped guitars to a musical saw. The album is conceptual and dramatic -- yet stridently self-controlled -- a new chapter in the book of vanguard jazz. Her album employs family stories through the narrator's tales of a distant relative (alternately a physical presence and a ghost) named "Coin Coin" (a.k.a. Marie Therese Metoyer a freed slave from the 18th century who founded her own community along Louisiana's Can River; a giant figure in African American history), she portrays strong black female archetypes throughout history, around which she constructs her own myths (of interwoven facts and fictions). Roberts understands implicitly the power of restraint in these compositions, though free improvisation as a dialogue is also imperative. The wailing saxophone that commences the album on "Rise" is a clarion call answered by a piano responding and conversing for nearly two-and-a-half minutes before a muted trumpet and strings enter. The rhythm section begins haltingly, becoming more urgent as the piece progresses, creating a pole between piano and bass as horns flit in and out, up and around the strings; hints of melodies assert themselves fleetingly and disappear quickly. "Pov Piti" begins with the piano and droning strings before a vocalist utters a primal wave of wordless expression that builds to a crescendo before Roberts' alto enters, playing repetitive, haunting lines in a bluesy tone; she is answered by strings, horns, and other voices before she begins to vocally narrate. These pieces serve as an introduction for this ensemble's journey through a labyrinthine past. It's provocative, uncompromising, and quite moving emotionally. The completely sung, near-gospel call and response of "Libation for Mr. Brown: Bid Em In...." introduces the beautiful responsorial "Lulla/Bye," where Roberts' alto, strings, and piano highlight gorgeous females singing a near spiritual before it gives way to the urgent free playing that alternates dynamically in "I Am." The set closes with "How Much Would You Cost," wherein the question is asked literally and upfront in a deceptively simple, almost nursery-rhymed song that underlines the preciousness of human life, which is all the more powerful for its unassuming and unwavering directness. It is illumined only by a hypnotic bassline and ends this gorgeous, singular performance. Roberts is in her own league as an improviser, a composer, and conceptualist. Given the success of this album, she creates great anticipation for the next installment in her project. ~ Thom Jurek

Jazz - To be released October 18, 2019 | Constellation