Matana Roberts has now reached the fourth instalment in her highly praised Coin Coin series. With the first three records exploring avenues of avant-garde composition, ranging from a large band down to solo work, Chapter Four: Memphis restores the collaborative motif, and sees Roberts lay out her most diverse musical vision yet, based on her scholarly research and passion for her subjects.
Vinyl LP £21.49 CST145LP
180g vinyl LP on Constellation. Includes multiple art inserts.
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CD £11.99 CST145CD
CD on Constellation.
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If y'all know me, then y'all'll know I love a Gesamtkunstwerk. So when I saw that this 'Memphis' project by Matana Roberts was labelled as such, I jumped at the chance to write about it. This particular album, part four of a purported twelve part series, is another development of Roberts' excellent 'Coin Coin' project. These albums deal with themes of racism and the non-male voice within American history influenced by what Roberts calls 'visual cues' such as newspaper clippings and old photographs.
The thing that struck me about this album was how the most sprawling, disjointed arrangements can transform into something completely rhythmic and regimented, almost without you noticing. It's a little like those weird AI face transformation videos on YouTube. 'As Far As Eyes Can See' begins with a freeform collection of layers where you are able to listen to each instrument individually, before coagulating into something harder, more driving. There are the otherworldly sounds of wind instruments being pushed in directions not usually heard. They groan and whinny like beasts in stalls. The staccato drums strike up a rhythm that seems to grow and recede while instruments follow a simple three note motif in unison. The piece falls away again into an intense free jazz passage, all trilling drums and angular saxophone. It's this ability to morph between the freeform and the rhythmic that makes this album all the more engaging. 'Fit To Be Tied' has trumpet and trombone parts that are so lazy it seems like the players can barely be bothered to lift the instruments to their mouths. However, again the volte face happens and this sleazy speakeasy vibe is reimagined into something far more nimble, tripping along on polyrhythms and Roberts' vocalisations.
The most immersive pieces on the album are the sung and spoken word pieces. Roberts has an incredibly dynamic voice which can range from fast-paced beat poetry to funereal dirge. It's hard to delineate any kind of pattern to Roberts' voice, but it seems to get more resigned as the album goes on. Compare the vocals on 'As Far As Eyes Can See' which are clear and emphatic, and deal with the idea of freedom, to 'How Bright They Shine' which is just murmuring, wordless and impassive. This last song is a triumph. It rises in a loud, almost optimistic way, plangent with lots of harsh noise swirling around like something from Elaine Radigue's 'Songs Of Milarepa' album, before giving way to a coda that seems to sink into silence.
'Chapter Four: Memphis' is bracing and startling; it's a morning dip in cider vinegar and spirulina. It's uncomfortable to listen to at times but never fails to be wholly engaging.
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- Coin Coin Chapter Four: Memphis by Matana Roberts
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