Continuing the Legacy of Oddities
In an insert of Chicago born saxophonist, vocalist, and conductor Matana Roberts’s second installment to the Coin Coin twelve-chapter series Mississippi Moonchile there reads quite a multitude of character. Roberts is a new breed of female jazz musicians. Not only is she a dominating presence of jazz composition, she puts a fresh breath in avant-garde jazz. 2011’s Coin Coin Chapter One: Gens de couleur libres was a modern jazz masterpiece and Chapter Two: Mississippi Moonchile continues a streak of excellence with a whole new approach to her expanding plate of jazz composition.
Introducing elements of operatic vocalization from Jeremiah Abiah is something that continues that legacy of oddities in Roberts’s experimentation. Gens de couleur libres exhibits this strong bond that Roberts has with her lineage. Moments when Roberts would display her cathartic, shrill vocals in succession with some of the most crass free jazz in some time really defined her 2011 record. Two years later and Mississippi Moonchile immediately picks up on opener “Invocation” with an almost traditional memory of a past jazz record, but there’s still this modern twist. Unlike part one’s eight track 62 minute runtime, Mississippi Moonchile looks quant. This time there’s 18 tracks and only a 49 minute runtime. There’s instances of minimal tracks that work as convenient pillars of transitions like eight second “All Nations” which is ambiguously placed among a strongly passionate saxophone lick.
Mississippi Moonchile works its most magical intuitions on the longer, yet still pointed towards a more medium range of four minutes on baroque-infused “River Ruby Dues” and “Amma Jerusalem School” where Roberts sounds her happiest with lines like “I sing because I’m happy / I sing because I’m free.” Unlike the first chapter, Mississippi Moonchile features many vocalists besides Roberts. Jeremiah Abiah provides his cinematic operatic tenor amongst the flurry of free jazz, a most odd and effective combination. There are also more minor roles of vocalists as attributed on the insert of Mississippi Moochile’s physical release. Trumpeter Jason Palmer, pianist Shoko Nagai, double bassist Thomson Kneeland, and drummer Tomas Fujiwara all provide a various assortments of audacious male vocals.
With Roberts working with a more close-knit six-piece as opposed to the much bigger, raw band she worked with on the first chapter, the record feels a lot more intimate. The first chapter was performed in one night in front of a live audience, so there’s a really intensive feel to the whole record as its moves through a multitude of movements. The humanistic elements to chapter one clinched you into Roberts daring story of her heritage. Perhaps that’s the one element Mississippi Moonchile is missing here. That raw, unrelenting emotion when Roberts would shriek with passion and unbounded velocity on “Pov Pit”. However, Mississippi Moonchile really excels instrumentally perhaps attributed to not being performed or recorded in front of a live audience. Something gives me an idea that “Was the Sacred Day” wouldn’t sound as punctual and wonderfully produced if it was recorded live, but my skills as a sound engineer aren’t adequate to make such an assumption.
In all safe, sound inferences towards the two Coin Coin chapters is that they balance and complement each other wonderfully. By the time Mississippi Moonchile hits “Thanks Be You” things feel great after some tension building amongst the dissonant, wild middle tracks. Roberts proclaims near the end that “Mississippi is a beautiful place” which is followed by the rhythmic freak-out “Humility Draws Down New”. Which serves as another short and sweet transition track. The album ends with the chilling hushed line, “Do not weep for me,” from Roberts immediately pointing towards chapter three with a hushed anticipation already.
RIYL: Charles Mingus, John Coltrane, Colin Stetson
REC: 1, 4, 7, 9, 16
Reviewed by Mike Lavin, October 28, 2013