— JON PARELES
COIN COIN CHAPTER TWO: MISSISSIPPI MOONCHILE, by Matana Roberts, Constellation
The metaphorical act of digging — through the loam of lived experience, into the bedrock of historical memory — means a great deal to alto saxophonist and composer Matana Roberts. For the better part of a decade, and possibly longer, she has been scavenging scraps of insight from her own lineage, and reassembling them in a suitelike work called Coin Coin. The first of its 12 chapters, released in 2011 on the Constellation label, featured an experimental large ensemble recorded in Montreal.
Coin Coin Chapter Two: Mississippi Moonchile is a more sinuous experience, and in most respects the more successful piece. Once again Roberts, a member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, builds on that organization’s tradition of intertextuality: among other things, she’s exploring her ancestral ties to Marie-Therese Coincoin, a freed slave who became a prominent planter and matriarch.
Throughout the piece Roberts intersperses slippery musical motifs with bits of prose, both spoken and sung, that she has transcribed from conversations with her maternal grandmother. She does much of the vocalizing herself, assigning some passages to an operatic tenor, Jeremiah Abiah. The piece has evolved since she first began performing it in 2006, but its core remains intact, its power undiminished.
Her agile ensemble features trumpeter Jason Palmer, pianist Shoko Nagai, bassist Thomson Kneeland and drummer Tomas Fujiwara. They play the album as an unbroken continuum, one track flowing into the next. The sanctified combustion of Albert Ayler informs this music, but its mood can also run beguilingly cool, as when a sauntering blues emerges out of scrabbling tumult on a track called Responsory.
And Roberts, who’s more than capable of caterwauling on her horn, favors a taut cry here. She knows that an album can’t convey the force of her presence, so she works dispassionately, with a focus on clarity, steadily delving deeper.
— NATE CHINEN