Matana Roberts

Coin Coin, Chapter Two: Mississippi Moonchile

In the wake of various high profile – not to mention high level – security and secrecy leaks, and the subsequent allegations of national intrusion by the NSA, it’s not surprising to see much of the American population questioning the secret policies that lurk beneath the ‘land of the free’ banner. The nation’s hot, relentless pursuit of its own citizens can be chilling to behold; the hierarchy a cold, all-staring eye. They are the ones who have their finger on the button, determining the rights and the responses of the nation (or, as the case may be, the violation of those rights). The constant struggle is often best expressed through the arts, and during times of hardship, it is a potent, vocal battle-cry.

The recent political events – the right to privacy and the right to free speech versus the interests of national security – potentially shape the face of the nation for years to come. Matana Roberts is the leading light of the experimental revolution, playing out the nation’s state of decay with a frantic urgency by a saxophone loaded with venom.

Matana Roberts’ saxophone is lethal, screaming in the face of the blank, emotionless state; the increasing constriction on American liberty and the slippery, moral decline that follows such constrictions, not to mention America’s future direction. The New Yorker is, intentionally or not, voicing her concerns through her art. Coin Coin, Chapter Two: Mississippi Moonchile must surely have been long in the making, but her saxophone is still a protester, chaining herself to light, jazzy brush-strokes that billow against a light, percussive breeze, angrily voicing her views to the point of asphyxiation.

The sweet, sassy tone of a saxophone, sleek, tight and infinitely sexy, is the perfect weapon against oppression. The faded bronze and dark brass of the instrument recalls the eye with her sweet look before she has even spoken. Her voice-box vibrations slink their way through her inner, silky curves until an outpouring of notes flow into the world, as sweet as a dollop of golden honey. Alto sax player Matana Roberts certainly has an ear for the instrument’s sweet, soulful voice, but she also tickles the tastebuds. Typically, the saxophone expresses herself on the stylistic platforms of jazz or early swing. Mississippi Moonchile, the second chapter in her Coin Coin series, is an experimental off-shoot, instead preferring to take an improvisational approach. Married to this, her distinct, beautifully rounded vocals are hushed stories that resist the current musical tide. ‘Amma Jerusalem School’, in particular, is a sublime track, with her repeating phrases and spoken vocals that recite rather than sing.

Coin Coin, Chapter Two is a rewarding journey, utilising prominent operatic tones and light, percussive stretches, tumbling like rocks against the windows. Sometimes, the sexy tones are neglected for a squealing stream of struggling notes. The tenor shakes and then smashes the previous musical foundation to the ground and, through the debris and the dust, is able to build up a new, improved replica in its place.

‘Responsory’, with its 12 bar sax solo, shines with a vividly bright melody; a traditional American folk song that looks into the past as well as the future, sepia-tinted photographs for an unborn generation. Early, authentic New York, played so deep underground that you could hear the subway trains rattling above.

Some serious drumming spices the record. An extravagant, lively piano plays along the keys, fingers dancing through multiple octaves, where well-known scales are ditched in favour of outside notes. It’s brave. Fortunately, it all rockets through so fast that the notes never have time to turn sour. Instead, it makes the music interesting to hear and the notes are very much alive – each and every one.

When harmony is allowed to take over, the stunning ‘Woman Red Racked’ is the result. Her instrument’s strangled tone seems to surrender its liberties when confronted by the percussive authorities. Her vocals, however, are spoken as freely as her flowing handwriting as she put ink to paper.

She is a fierce songwriter – take note.

There are two sides to every coin, an obstinate fact that puts a barrier between two kinds of people. Democrat or republican. Labour or conservative. Either side is loathed by the other, largely because of their allegiance and their policies. Saxophone music used to find itself fitting into one camp; one genre of music. The beauty of music is further revealed as Matana Roberts tears down these very walls. Prepare to see the system shaken up. The revolution is here.

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