River Run Thee is the third entry in Matana Roberts' so far incredible 12-part musical tapestry (as she called it for part two, "sound quilting") about civil rights and the history of creativity in America. Roberts' discipline is jazz, specifically avant compositions on saxophone, but, as implied with her involvement with Montreal's Constellation label, she is interested in a plethora of experimental genres including post-rock, ambient, opera, gospel and a capella. River Run Thee almost completely departs from her jazz work for a record that takes drone and electro-acoustic noise as its base, while interconnecting different utterances of Roberts' voice as it appears and disperses. There's still sax in abundance, but this time it's processed and sustained to create a haunting sound.
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Matana Roberts has been one of the most expansive artists of the last few years, crafting what she considers “panoramic sound quilting”, a phrase that by now feels totally earned: in three records out of a planned twelve documenting the socio-political history of America, she’s breached the sounds of free-jazz, spoken word, gospel, metal, post-rock and now electro-acoustic. Each of the records in the COIN COIN project has been proudly singular; unfurled, each is its own specific tapestry.
‘River Run Thee’ is perhaps Roberts’ least accessible work yet, delivering none of the previous installment’s ascending moments: the crescendos of the first record are gone, as are the strangely natural rhythms that drove the separate suites of ‘Mississippi Moonchile’. What we’re left with is a record that spans, in its eleven songs, one formalised piece of music. Roberts uses pulsating, shore-washed drones to connect each composition to the next, weaving her prose through a torrent of processed saxophones, field noise and loops. It’s a record that completely abandons narratives told in melody or genre, and the result is that Roberts’ stories feel fragmented -- a collage of American history that sounds every bit as messy and misunderstood as it actually is. ‘River Run Thee’ is the metaphor and the literal interacting: the dissonance of noise meets the distortion of language.
While this is Roberts’ first solo entry into the COIN COIN project -- one without supplementary performers or instrumentalists -- it perhaps also feels the most texturally expansive. Roberts’ layers her voice so that it can react and relate to itself: at times her vocal will reproach another utterance of her voice, and at others they will be working together in a disorientating haze. The field recordings Roberts has collated for ‘Run River Thee’ also work to document the setting of the American South, where she spent time amassing sound and testimonials. The vocal elements of this work are never peacefully united, and neither are the found sounds; they swirl around in search of a way to explain and satisfy the surreal, but they do not succeed. This is a noisy, harsh record, but it speaks to the real time complications of Roberts’ project: these sounds are sounds of discovery for her, as well as us.
10/10 Morten Brohammer Customer review, 5th March 2015
10 out 10 is as good as it gets, but after 4-5 listens I can't find anything to complain about. The third Coin-Coin installment is nothing like the first two in terms of the instrumental handling or abrasive in-yr-face skronk, but a much more toned down and meditative take on the themes Roberts seems intent on exploring. Voices, field recordings, sax, and synths are the main ingredients and they weave a beautiful abstract patchwork together, which appears to be an African-American history lesson without pointed fingers, or historical bias in terms of point of view. If you're looking for something substantial that is also "collagey" and "free" to drift off to, this is your ticket to explore the complex history of the South (and more) via the apparently impeccable ears of a musician who's not afraid to push the boundaries of Jazz, but lucklily doesn't see it as a goal in itself either.
I liked part I and II, and this is something very different which needs to be appreciated on its own terms, and not by comparison.
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