Matana Roberts: Coin Coin Chapter Four: Memphis (Constellation)

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As Far As the Eye Can See
Matana Roberts: Coin Coin Chapter Four: Memphis (Constellation)
This extraordinary collision of free jazz, hard bop, spoken word, folk-blues and more is the fourth installment of sonic biographies by Chicago's multi-instrumentalist and classically-trained Matana Roberts who has worked with Vijay Iyer, Roscoe Mitchell, TV on the Radio and Godspeed You! Black Emperor and has been an artist in residence at the Whitney, is a longtime member of AACM and an uncompromising experimentalist.

This album – on which she plays alto and clarinet and is joined by free-form electric guitar, oud, jaw harp, fiddle, drums and more – is a loose and evocative narrative of a black girl growing up in Memphis (“[my daddy would say] 'Run baby run, run like the wind'. Memory's the most unusual thing” echoes throughout) and the ever-present subtle or overtly menacing prejudice (the Klan on the spoken word All Things Beautiful) which is evoked by brusque saxophone, disorientating free jazz which doesn't allow for any confirmed place or space, and an anger sometimes wrapped in flickers of optimism.

Her broad reach draws from old folk songs, gospel (Roll the Old Chariot configured as Her Mighty Waters Run) and jazz (Handy's St Louis Blues among the many styles drawn on).

This is dense, pictorial, often demanding (those who know of the AACM will be the best prepared) and storytelling where the sound, as much as the increasingly terrifying narrative, conveys the meaning.

At times it sounds ancient – the vocalisation at the end of Wild Fire Bare, a piece which slides sideways to New Orleans on Fit to be Tied which follows – and wouldn't be here but for that rich musical legacy she explores . . . and with that comes the church, the collective memory of slavery, oppression, the desperate flight to freedom, the death of the child's mother and more.

That “run baby run” refrain grows in intensity and resonance as this proceeds to a short, droning and textural conclusion How Bright They Shine.

Memphis is a consciously uneasy but also captivating installment of the Coin Coin project, a sonic journey and distillation of a race's story into the voice of an individual.

You won't have heard much like this recently.


You can hear Coin Coin Chapter Four: Memphis at Spotify here where the previous chapters are also available



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