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Archive for the ‘Matana Roberts’ Category

fakeSOUNDTRACK: MATANA ROBERTS-Coin Coin: Chapter 3 Mississippi Moonchile [CST110] (2015).

cst110cover_258x242I felt like the first Coin Coin disc was way too long, so imagine my surprise to discover that the whole Coin Coin series is planned as a 12 chapter collection!

Unlike the previous 2 chapters, this album was created entirely by Roberts.  She is credited with playing saxophone, Korg Monotron and a 1900s upright piano.  But like the others, the tracks bleed into each other and seem to end indiscriminately.

This disc also quotes from The Star Spangled Banner, Beautiful Dreamer, The Pledge of Allegiance, My Country ‘Tis of Thee, Lift Every Voice and Sing and All the Pretty Horses.  As well as samples from Malcolm X and a field recording of a travel through Mississippi, Louisiana Tennessee and NYC.

The first song, “All is Written” is 10 minutes long.  She sings quietly and starkly (voice breaking) while spoken words overlap behind her voice (and the saxophone and drones).  Her singing is at times pained and strained—aching with the truth of her words.  As “The Good Book” begins, the spoken word continues but the main sound is an industrial throbbing.  Near the end, a new metallic sound comes screeching in and then resolves into a kind of drone while angelic voices takes over for song three, “Clothed to the Land, Worn by the Sea” which is more pleasant.

“Dreamer of Dreams” resumes some spoken word and synth noises while two overlapping tracks of sax solos play.  “Always Say Your Name” has some more drones and a wild sax solo.  “Nema Nema Nema” experiments with analog synth noises while she sings a pretty melody with other voices circulating behind her.  “A Single Man o’War” has a high pitched drone. which is accompanied by several three note chants.

“As Years Roll By” is spoken words, with drone and church bells.   And lots of “Amens.”  “This Land is Yours” has lots of voices speaking and overlapping.  It ends with someone singing “come away with me come away,” which segues into “Come Away” with a noisy background and spoken voices talking about Zanzibar.  Then there is a keening, pained voice singing the middle. “JP” is a speech about he slave trade.

Although this album is difficult, it is more manageable than her other releases in this series.  But manageability clearly isn’t her plan, she is making a statement and it is exciting and frightening to listen to.

[READ: August 10, 2016] Original Fake

You should never judge a book by its cover.  But I really liked the cover of this book a lot.  And the title was intriguing, so I grabbed it off the new book shelf.

And what a great, fun story it was.

The book opens with Frankie sneaking into his school at 6:30 AM.  No one else is there except maybe the janitor.  He is sneaking into the school to do a small amount of vandalism. But the vandalism is not your typical vandalism.  On the school hallway is a mural that is currently being painted.  Frankie is an artist but he was not asked to paint the mural (no one really knows he does art).  The mural is a of a lake and farm fields and all that.  And he has decided to tag the mural.  He has painted a water-skiing abominable snowman giving the hang loose sign in the corner of the lake.  “He’s maybe six inches tall, and I kind of put him close to a rock so he’d blend in, but if you get close, its pretty obvious he doesn’t belong. He’s completely amazing.”

Amid the telling of the scene is a drawing of Frankie painting the snowman–this book is full of illustrations by Johnson.  Most of the illustrations complement the story but a couple actually tell the story, too. (more…)

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coin2 hiddenSOUNDTRACK: MATANA ROBERTS-Coin Coin: Chapter 2 Mississippi Moonchile [CST098] (2013).

The first chapter of this series was a sprawling disc of free-form jazz and spoken word.  It was interesting and strange with a powerful message (not always elegantly delivered).  It felt too long, but I think it was done live which would make it more understandable as a long presentation.

Chapter 2 is quite different.  It is much shorter, but it has 18 tracks that flow seamlessly (and often without apparent logic) into each other.  Most of the songs are quite short as well.

“invocation” is a sultry jazz number (Matana Roberts plays saxophone).  There’s also piano, trumpet, double bass and drums.  One thing that I didn’t like about the first chapter was Robert’s “poetry slam” deliver of her spoken words.  This album more or less erases that all together with the inclusion of Jeremiah Abiah on “operatic tenor vocals.”  I don’t know what he’s saying (if anything) most of the time, but his voice soars above the jazzy din.

“humility draws down blue” starts in the middle of a trumpet solo and lasts for a minute and a half.  “all nations” is only 8 seconds long and seems to coincide with a vocal line from Abiah.  “twelve sighed” settles things down some.

The first real change comes with “river ruby dues,” which opens with a gentle piano motif, and Abiah’s vocals.  Roberts’ sax solo plays throughout.  There are somewhat recognizable motifs played throughout the album.  I was sure I heard parts of “Pop Goes the Weasel.”

“amma jerusalem school” also opens with a new melody–a four note sax line–without a doubt the prettiest melody of the disc.  About mid-way through the song, Roberts begins speaking/reciting.  There’s a lot going on in her saga.  When that ends, more instrumentals continue and “responsory” has a lovely falsetto singing section.

This half of the album has been fairly conventional jazz: rather pretty with some nice melodies—far more conventional than Chapter 1.

Although by “the labor of their lips,” things have become a bit more avant-garde.  But even that doesn’t last too long and by “was the sacred day,” a pretty melody has resumed and more spoken word comes in, this time in stream of consciousness.  It’s a story of childhood with some happy and some sad details including: “they didn’t like black people at the hospital. you could use a room but no nurses would attend to you.” and the story of a woman getting whipped for not saying ‘sir.’   Interspersed through this tale is a sung line “I sing because I’m happy I sing because I’m free.”

‘woman red racked’ features Robert’s singing voice—pretty and pained—with some nice, deep backing voices accompanying.  Interestingly, this vocal part ends with them singing “Amen,” but the song is not over… a sax solo emerges from this and plays a kind of wild section with Abiah’s vocals until the end.

“thanks be you” is a spoken piece, a story told to a child about the past “there are some things I just can’t tell you about” which references a lot of childhood songs.  It ends with the repeated refrain “Mississippi is a beautiful place.”

This disc is only 48 minutes and it feels just about the right length,  “benediction” ends the disc with a quietly sung song with another singer accompanying her: their voices sound great together.

As with the first one, the narrative is a little unclear.  The main thrust of the story is obvious and effective, but it would be hard to diagram the story.  Nonetheless, her use of jazz and traditional sources (“red ruby dues,” “woman red racked” and “benediction” are based on traditional American folk songs), make for an evocative look into slavery from the point of view of one family.

[READ: March 20. 2016] Hidden

Having recently read the Resistance trilogy I am much more aware of France’s role in WWII.  But that could never have prepared me for this children’s book about the Holocaust.  (written by Loïc Dauvillier, translated from the French by Alexis Siegel with illustrations by Marc Lizano and Greg Salsedo).

The book opens on a little girl.  She wakes up in bed and hears her grandmother crying.  When she asks what’s wrong her grandmother tells her about the “nightmare she was having.”

And that nightmare is her story as a young Jewish girl in occupied France and how her life was brutally upended.  This is all told with fairly cute little characters with oversized heads.

I’ve never heard this story from the point of view of a child before.  Her grandmother was a little girl going to school.  She and her friends did everything that you’d expect little kids to do and the story starts out very sweetly.  Then one day she comes home and her father says that they must all be sheriffs–wear the yellow star on their lapel.  Once they stray doing that, she is effectively shunned.  But she has no idea why–why does everyone hate the sheriff? (more…)

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snSOUNDTRACK: FORGET ALL THAT AND JUST WAIL: New Music That Orbits Around Jazz (compilation The Believer July/August 2013).

bel This compilation came as a digital download with The Believer’s 2013 Music Issue (you need to get a physical copy of the issue to get the download code). Ross Simonini, the compiler, explains that he used to like jazz, but that he really doesn’t anymore.  And he finds himself attracted to these pieces that hover around jazz but which really aren’t jazz.  You can read Simonini’s thoughtful comments about all of these tracks here).  I enjoyed this compilation quite a lot and am considering getting a  few of these discs, or at least investigating them further.  And that’s want you want from a compilation.

COLIN STETSON-“The Righteous Wrath if an Honorable Man”
Any compilation that opens with Colin Stetson is okay with me.  This track was my introduction to the man last year and I still love it, in all of its insanity.

KARRIEM RIGGINS-“Double Trouble” is only 2 minutes long.  It’s got flutes and vibraphones and is super cool and retro sounding.  I really like it, although this track ends abruptly and I can’t decide if the actual song does or if it was cut short for the disc.

THUNDERCAT-“For Love  I Came” has some echoey keyboards and some great bass lines and cool/cheesy keyboard lines (it all sounds so gloriously 70s).  When the vocals come in, the whole track feels like Yes if Yes were inspired by jazz instead of classical (and had no drums—until about 2 minutes when the drums kick in and the song takes off and bass solo makes it very Yes-like).

THE BEN MONDER TRIO-“Red Shifts” is a classic style jazz guitar workout—the echoed effect is very jazzy.  And yet there is something very angular about the playing that keeps it from sounding smooth.   It’s a great track (which once again seems to get cut off very abruptly).

DAWN OF MIDI-“Ymir” is another trio—piano bass and drums.  The piano is muted (the pianist puts his hand on the strings) which makes it sound like another percussive instrument while it is also creating  the melody.  It’s very cool.  And I like the way over the 8 or so minutes the melody changes slightly, giving it a new sound almost accidentally.

GLOWS IN THE DARK-“Up and Down” starts as a fast but quiet guitar piece with some cool subtle horns over the top.  It features a rap by Count Bass D which i do not care for (The “I’m pissed/L.L. Cool J” verse is really awkward).  This is the first track on the disc that i really don’t like, which is a shame because the music is really cool.

STEVE RAEGELE-“Traingle (Daedalus)” is a weird, cool experimental sounding track.  Sounds are overlaid on each other with a lot of echoing that gives it a very dense structure.  Whether or not this is jazz is hard to say but it’s very intriguing.

MARY HALVORSON QUINTET-“Sea Cut Like Snow (No. 26)” Halvorson is a guitarist and this live track features some of the most traditional jazz on the compilation.  The song has cool melodies and some nice improvsiing (on various instruments).  It runs a little long though (I wish this had been truncated rather than the earlier ones) but it’s enjoyable.

FLYING LOTUS-“German Haircut” this is an electronically manipulated pastiche of songs with a sax solos placed over the top.  It’s an interesting concoction.

CHRIS CORSANO-“Famously Short Arms”  This is one of the most amazing drum videos I’ve ever seen–it is so creative and original.  As an audio track it is basically a  drum solo, but watching him and what he does on the drums is really mind expanding.

MATANA ROBERTS-“lulla/bye”  I have this track as well (two tracks from Constellation here).  It’s full of saxophones and longing in the singing.  It’s hard to define but it’s very evocative.

MICROKINGDOM-“Peppermint Crab” This is a weird and wild piece.  It opens with some manipulated and spacey vibes and electronics and then gets assaulted by a wild and screaming sax solo that would make John Zorn proud.

DIAMOND TERRIFIER-“Kill the Self That Wants to Kill Yourself” This song opens with some simple keyboard chords and some odd unsettling sounds thrown over them (waves of static and squeaking saxophone). Then comes some wild soloing.

This is a solid compilation of jazz-like music.  It veers into more extreme forms of jazz and will certainly alienate some listeners, but it’s an introduction to what else is out there on the fringes.

[READ: August 8, 2013] Shakespeare’s Nigga

The artistic director of the Obsidian Theatre Company (which put on this play) explains in the intro that with a title like that, you’re going to get attention.  In fact he initially said that they couldn’t use that title, because it was too much.  But they changed their mind because it really was…right.

This story looks at the two most prominent black men in Shakespeare: Othello (the Moorish general who is ruled by violent emotion) and Aaron (a Moorish slave who is basically pure evil—in Titus Andronicus).  As the artistic development coordinator of the Obsidian Theater says, Shakespeare is the authority on writing characters, thus these two men have become entwined in Black masculinity.  Which is a shame because “Moor” could basically be anyone who did not live in Europe and because Shakespeare likely didn’t know any black people (except as slaves).  It’s not really a good sample.

Playwright Joseph Jomo Pierre doesn’t seek to rectify this or upend this or decry Shakespeare.  What he does is much more subtle and much more powerful.

There are five characters in the play: Othello, Aaron, Tyrus (an older black male), Shakespeare and Judith (Shakespeare’s daughter).  Shakespeare and Othello are comrades (I won’t say friends, but it seems like Shakespeare relies on Othello for protection and advice).  Meanwhile, Aaron has tried to escape from his slavery and is currently chained up and beaten (usually by Othello). (more…)

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