Matana Roberts – COIN COIN Chapter Four: Memphis (2019) [FLAC 24bit/96kHz]

Matana Roberts – COIN COIN Chapter Four: Memphis (2019)
FLAC (tracks) 24 bit/96 kHz | Time – 46:40 minutes | 955 MB | Genre: Jazz
Studio Masters, Official Digital Download | Front Cover | © Constellation

Matana Roberts returns with the fourth chapter of her extraordinary Coin Coin series – a project that has deservedly garnered the highest praise and widespread critical acclaim for it’s fierce aesthetic originality and unflinching narrative power. The first three Coin Coin albums, issued from 2011-2015, charted diverse pathways of modern/avant composition – Roberts calls it “panoramic sound quilting” – and ranged sequentially from large band to sextet to solo, unified by Roberts’ archival and often deeply personal research into legacies of the American slave trade and ancestries of American identity/experience. Roberts also emphasizes non-male subjects and thematises these other-gendered stories with a range of vocal and verbal techniques: singspeak, submerged glossolalic recitation, guttural cathartic howl, operatic voice, gentle lullaby, group chant, and the recuperation of various American folk traditionals and spirituals, whether surfacing in fragmentary fashion or as unabridged set-pieces. The root of this vocality comes from her dedication to the legacy of her main chosen instrument, the alto saxophone. On Coin Coin Chapter Four: Memphis, Roberts convened a new band, with New Yorkers Hannah Marcus (guitars, fiddle, accordion) and percussionist Ryan Sawyer (Thurston Moore, Nate Wooley, Cass McCombs) joined by Montréal bassist Nicolas Caloia (Ratchet Orchestra) and Montréal-Cairo composer/improviser Sam Shalabi (Land Of Kush, Dwarfs Of East Agouza) on guitar and oud, along with prolific trombonist Steve Swell and vibraphonist Ryan White as special guests. Memphis unspools as a continuous work of 21st century liberation music, oscillating between meditative incantatory explorations, raucous melodic themes, and unbridled free-improv suites, quoting archly and ecstatically from various folk traditions along the way. Led by Roberts’ conduction and unique graphic score practice, her consummate saxophone and clarinet playing, and punctuated by her singing and speaking various texts generated from her own historical research and diaristic writings, Coin Coin Chapter Four is a glorious and spellbinding new installment in this projected twelve-part Gesamtkunstwerk. Says Roberts: “As an arts adventurer dealing w/ the medium of sound and it’s 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.”

Like each of the previous chapters in artist Matana Roberts’ projected 12-part work Coin Coin, she uses her music as a medium. Through it she explores the gauzy intersection of folklore and history that serves as a definition of the way in which we view ourselves at the present juncture, or refuse to should we wish to remain in the darkness. Roberts interrogates official accounts, slave narratives, her family’s stories, and her identity as an African American woman; she also delves into and explodes mythologies, historic, spiritual, and cultural. Coin Coin is not one story but many, a revelatory exploration of Blackness outside the notorious twin filters of race and class that define America. Where Coin Coin Chapter Three: River Run Thee was delivered completely solo, Memphis showcases a brand-new band. This new group includes the criminally under-celebrated multi-instrumentalist and composer Hannah Marcus on guitars, fiddle, and accordion, Sam Shalabi on guitar and oud, Nick Caloia on bass, and Ryan Sawyer on drums and percussion. All members provide vocals. Roberts speaks, sings, and plays alto saxophone and clarinet. She also engages contributions from trombonist Steve Swell and vibraphonist Ryan White alongside a trio of guest vocalists. Roberts employs her usual rainbow of methods to reveal her interrogation of past and present: Spoken word, singing, narrating, playing, and directing. Musically free jazz improvisation winds through gospel, blues, folk, and field chants. Introduced by droning voices, bowed strings, clarinet, and percussion, “Jewels of the Sky: Inscription” opens the doorways between antiquity and a 21st century United States where black men and women are executed by police. Though her maternal grandmother’s mugshot adorns the cover, Roberts traces the story of an ancestor named Liddie whose father was murdered by the KKK. In “As Far as the Eye Can See,” jaw harp, accordion, fiddle, and guitars frame her spoken narrative about the slippage of memory, Liddie’s recollection of her father encouraging her to run as a metaphor to flee the Klan’s violence and hate, of church, and segregation. In the set’s longest track, Roberts sets snippets of folk songs “Cold Frosty Morning” and “Paddy on the Turnpike” against free improvisation as a way of opening them to her thematic narration which concludes with the sung refrain from “Do Lord.” In “Fit to Be Tied,” W.C. Handy’s “St. Louis Blues” is offered atop a Latin beat amid chants, moans, and free playing. “Her Mighty Waters Run” features staggered choral voices droning through the spiritual “Roll the Old Chariot.” On “All Things Beautiful,” abstract group improvisation clears the way for Roberts to expressionistically narrate the Klan’s violence before and after Liddie’s flight: “I wish I could feel myself again/I am a child of the wind/Even daddy said so….” Like its predecessors, Coin Coin Chapter Four: Memphis isn’t “easy” to listen to, nor should it be, given the nature of what it explores and explicates. That said, it is a necessary, engaged art that bears repeated listening for its revelation to unfold and hopefully open a gateway to understanding. Arguably, it is the strongest and most compelling of the Coin Coin releases thus far. ~ Thom Jurek


1. Matana Roberts – Jewels Of The Sky: Inscription
2. Matana Roberts – As Far As The Eye Can See
3. Matana Roberts – Trail Of The Smiling Sphinx
4. Matana Roberts – Piddling
5. Matana Roberts – Shoes Of Gold
6. Matana Roberts – Wild Fire Bare
7. Matana Roberts – Fit To Be Tied
8. Matana Roberts – Her Mighty Waters Run
9. Matana Roberts – All Things Beautiful
10. Matana Roberts – In The Fold
11. Matana Roberts – Raise Yourself Up
12. Matana Roberts – Backbone Once More
13. Matana Roberts – How Bright They Shine