RECENT LISTEN: Matana Roberts – Coin Coin Chapter One: Gens de Couleur Libres

Year: 2011 – Producer: Matana Roberts – Label: Constellation – Genre: Avant-Garde Jazz

‘Coin Coin Chapter One: Gens de Couleur Libres’ is the first of a three chapter album series by saxophonist Matana Roberts. This release is a hypnotically powerful and raw brand of avant-garde jazz from one of the genre’s most overlooked names today.

A fitting start to a discussion on this album would be the emotive energy that it generates. This record has the ability to be bleakly haunting and chillingly unnerving at times – some of the tracks, like ‘I Am’, could easily be in a horror film. And it’s in tracks like this and ‘Pov Piti’ that you hear the vocalist unleash some unearthly and guttural screams. The shrieks are raspy, grating, and, most of all, hugely disturbing. They’re so, so visceral and really leave their mark on you.

The vocals can also be lyrical but even then the singing style is extremely alternative. It’s a sort of quasi-spoken word but the vocalist is constantly changing the speed and pitch of her delivery or stretching certain syllables making it quite strange to listen to. Especially when you factor in the mystical and often dark content of the lyrics – ‘I watched my parents die of yellow fever, I cut open the womb of my dead mother’. However, the tone does jump from the surreal to topics like slavery (a major theme on the record) in tracks like ‘How Much Would You Cost?’ and ‘Libation For Mr. Brown: Bid Em In’. The latter being a 10 minute long track with over half of it being devoid of any instrument and is purely a vocal performance on the slave trade.

The instrumentation takes many forms on this record though it’s mostly very free and loose jazz that sounds like improv. It strikes me as music that is meticulously engineered to seem completely improvised, for the most part. But there are also instances of more conventional jazz arrangements like the beginnings of ‘Song for Eulalie’ and ‘Kerasia’ – which are straight up groovy and actually have a rhythm. The former track has an initial rhythm that could be attributed to Kamasi Washington’s style of music.

The sixth track on the album, Lulla/Bye, is an ironically named track for a song that could give you nightmares, or at least make you question your existence in this time and place. This is the kind of track that will make you reflect upon all the injustices that have been committed by humanity over the centuries and how you are the product of thousands of years of evolution and you’re just sitting here reading this. It’s a bleak but also fun track.

This album does the exact opposite of scratching the surface. It’s distinctly different to Ornette Coleman’s brand of jazz; Roberts’ jazz seems more measured and appears to have more of a statement behind it. In comparison to Coleman’s manic and frenzied style hers is much more emotive. I have no idea if the artists who create avant-garde jazz intend for their music to be enjoyable, but I can say that Matana Roberts’ ‘Coin Coin Chapter One: Gens de Couleur Libres’ is incredibly evocative and brilliantly performed.

Top Tracks: Rise, Song for Eulalie

My Rating: 7/10

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