The first instalment of Matana Roberts' 'Coin Coin' series is an edited 60-minute suite from a 90-minute live performance. Complete with 14 accompanying musicians at Montreal's legendary Hotel2Tango venue, Roberts blends avant-garde/spiritual jazz with spoken word and jazz poetry. There's heady psychedelic grooves in there, improvised sections, gentle instrumentals and numerous musical mood swings. 'Gens De Couleur Libres' is the beginning chapter of one of the most exciting series in modern jazz.
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I seem to be getting a lot of reviews of apparently legendary people I've never encountered before. The latest of these is Matana Roberts's new offering on Constellation. It's hard to know where to start describing this, it's pretty all over the place, but the focus seems to be on Roberts's alto sax and vocals, with the album being an edited 60-minute suite from a 90-minute live performance with 14 accompanying musicians at Montreal's legendary Hotel2Tango. As far as I can tell it fluctuates between composed and improvised music, and in places it seems to be very politically/historically themed, although I fear if I try to focus on that aspect in this review all I'll do is demonstrate my own ignorance regarding its subject matter. The album opens with a shrill and uncompromising saxophone solo with incoherent and repetitive vocals over the top, but the moods swing wildly throughout. There's a couple of simple folky type compositions, a trad-jazz type part...even a drawn-out a capella spiritual in the middle; but there's also moments of disembodied screeching over skittish free jazz, and some great groovy psychedelic jazz moments too. The closing track, 'How Much Would You Cost', is a delightfully gentle and rhythmic song accompanied by pizzicato double bass that really pushes my buttons. Even when this record isn't my thing it's hard not to admire how cohesive the whole mess sounds in spite of the cultural and stylistic diversity it represents. I like how the accompanists come and go throughout the piece, too - it's obviously been carefully planned beforehand or the improvised parts would soon descend into one-dimensional chaos with an ensemble this size. Roberts is clearly a unique talent, and this album is very engaging and thought-provoking.
9/10 sheila 27th February 2015
I started with Coin Coin 2, and now I've ducked back to the first and got the third.
I used to listen to a lot of Jazz, it was my main thing then it all got stale and bland. Roberts' makes me fall in love again and hear this ancient music properly again, though love is a word that sits uneasy for a music that drops oppression and the racist normal into tunes and themes that set fires and smell of danger. This coin coin journey I have joined is a history of america, a parallel america from the one we always see, a history that speaks of grace and love and slippy little riffs and choruses that remind me of musicians that I used to listen to those years ago. And I can't believe how much she fits into each album, and I love the way she circles back to origins and scars and looks and picks and moves on; and I feel a little guilty gaining pleasure from her history. It is terrifying music and it bursts with life. I'm glad I spent the time previously listening to the gone-befores she vitalises.
9/10 Robin 9th July 2014
'COIN COIN' is a twelve part musical tapestry that has so far woven American liberation history together with alto-saxophonist Matana Roberts’ family tree, the two distinct worlds intersecting among free jazz, scraped metal vocals, baritone opera and spoken word. 'Gens De Couleur' is the debut record in the collection, which Roberts hopes to keep expanding in both genre (electro-acoustic, anyone?) and political scope. Its avant-jazz sound is far from the full story: “Rise” is little more than an introduction, and the record soon becomes moulded around contributions from a number of Constellation players. Roberts is complemented by the tense, tightening strings you’d expect of A Silver Mt. Zion, as well as the engineering work of Radwan Moumneh, who projects his affection for live-recorded music onto the record’s aggressive improvising. Driving it, though, is Roberts’ wish to unite as many experimental music forms for the same goal; her band can be as heavy as hardcore, as inescapable as a black metal drum fill, in the space of a ten minute a capella chant.
Roberts has referred to what she does as “sound-quilting”, but where the music on 'Gens De Couleur' goes where it pleases, its narrative is unwavering. Her aim is no better expounded on than in the crux of vocal exercise “Bid ‘Em In”, a song about slavery and racial violence in America. As the double bass cuts through Roberts’ vocal, her choir of singers become more pronounced and together, satisfying her wish to uncover “universal experiences of Africans in America”. It’s a gruelling introduction to a project that has only gone on to intensify, but Roberts’ first 'COIN COIN' record is a triumphant and vital experiment.
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- Coin Coin Chapter One: Gens De Couleur Libres by Matana Roberts
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