Matana Roberts: Coin Coin Chapter Four: Memphis


Coin Coin is a multi-media project examining Roberts’s Afro-American family history and experiences over several generations. When I interviewed her by email for a Jazz Journal profile back in 2011 (sorry, name-dropping again) she had completed eight episodes, with two more planned (now completed) but this is only the fourth part to be issued on record. The previous instalments were Gens De Couleur Libres, released in 2011, Mississippi Moonchile (2013) and River Run Thee (2015). 

She told me “I’m interested in music as inquisitive experience, in exploring modes of improvisation and composition as an experiential, mystical energy practice, rather than a pure homage practice or just sound for the sake of historical presentation and commentary”.

She has certainly achieved her aims, even more so with this instalment than in the others I have heard. Memphis is a remarkable, breath-taking torrent of images, styles, influences, references (including amongst many others an abrasive version of St. Louis Blues during Fit To Be Tied) all cohering into a powerful, transfixing, goose-bump-raising vision, sometimes reaching a pitch of emotional intensity that is almost intimidating, yet ultimately inspiring … anger and irony are outweighed by passion and hope.

There are elements recalling the Association For The Advancement Of Creative Musicians (not surprising, since she was a member of AACM before she left the Windy City for the Big Apple) as well as classics such as Coltrane’s Ascension, with the opening track evoking Acknowledgment from his A Love Supreme. None of which is to suggest derivativeness … this is a highly-personal work, another superb chapter in this major undertaking.

If you are into vinyl, apparently the LP version of this album comes with a pair of full colour pull-out art prints featuring collages of the graphic scores.

Jewels Of The Sky: Inscription; As Far As Eyes Can See; Trail Of The Smiling Sphinx; Piddling; Shoes Of Gold; Wild Fire Bare; Fit To Be Tied; Her Mighty Waters Run; All Things Beautiful; In The Fold; Raise Yourself Up; Backbone Once More; How Bright They Shine (46.48)
Roberts (as, cl, v); Steve Swell (tb, v); Hannah Marcus (g, vn, acc, v); Sam Shalabi (el-g, oud, v); Nicolas Caloia (b, v); Ryan Sawyer (d, vib, jaw hp, bells, v); Ryan White (vib); Thierry Amar, Nadia Moss, Jessica Moss (v). Montréal, Canada. No date.
Constellation CST 143