Matana Roberts - Coin Coin Chapter Two: Mississippi Moonchile
- Stewart Smith
- 11 October 2013
Gorgeous tapestry of African-American music from Montreal players with avant-rock links
Recorded with Montreal players connected to the avant-rock collective Godspeed! You Black Emperor, Gens De Couleur Libres, the first chapter in Matana Roberts' visionary exploration of African-American history and culture, saw a 15-piece band exploring a wide range of textures, from Aylerised freedom cries and Linda Sharrock screams to prickly guitars and Mingus soul rolls.
The second, Mississippi Moonchile, is perhaps less immediately startling, based as it is around the tight interplay of a crack New York jazz quintet. Yet the scope of the material they play is no less ambitious, with Roberts sewing folk song, spoken-word and the operatic tenor of Jeremiah Abiah into the patchwork she calls 'panoramic sound quilting'. The formal register of Abiah's vocals gives a striking, but remarkably effective, contrast to Robert's soulful singing and the band's fluid mastery of jazz, folk and avant-garde idioms. On alto saxophone, Roberts eschews the free-blowing of the first chapter for a breathy, bluesy tone with trumpeter Jason Palmer providing a sharper, more extrovert counterpoint, taking in brassy New Orleans melodies, sardonic voice effects and Don Cherry scrabble. Pianist Shoko Nagai's musical language veers from swinging hard-bop to impressionistic atonality, while drummer Thomas Fujiwara drives the music forward with scurrying brushwork and deft cymbal sprays. Roberts sings here too, wrapping folk and gospel quotations around spoken-word sections where she juxtaposes her grandmother's warm, chatty recollections of a Mississippi childhood with a harrowing account of racist policing by civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer.
These voices, woven into a gorgeous tapestry of African-American music, create a powerful testament of personal history and collective experience. There is anger and pain here, but also a great sense of hope and redemption, as underlined by the utterly beautiful singing of the hymn 'In The Garden' which brings the album to a close. On this form, Coin Coin is shaping up to be one of the great works of the decade, a boundary-crossing, yet accessible, gesamstkunstwerk to stand proudly alongside the large-scale projects of William Parker or Art Ensemble of Chicago.