2019 Highlight: Matana Roberts

There is an unearthly quality about the sound of alto saxophonist Matana Roberts. Her supranatural cry takes you back to Ornette Coleman, to Charlie Parker to the streets, to the river, to the land, places only she knows and yet somehow we can sense …

Published: 9 Dec 2019. Updated: 24 months.

There is an unearthly quality about the sound of alto saxophonist Matana Roberts. Her supranatural cry takes you back to Ornette Coleman, to Charlie Parker to the streets, to the river, to the land, places only she knows and yet somehow we can sense the haunting terrain. Her poetry is of the saxophone and also springs from words themselves uttered from her mouth taken from her writings.

Her Coin Coin project is as much history and sociology as it is music as her vision embraces much beyond the wail of the saxophone and the notes on the page. She manages to draw on punk, on rock, a sense of Indian music too and much else with the connotation of the blues never far away. But above all on a highly abstract collage sound that slaps clusters on clusters and darts between atonality, the fractured universe explored for decades by the AACM as one input, and a pantonal world of melody and rhythmic jolt that is as much paint on a canvas as notes in the air.

With guitarist-oudist Sam Shalabi, the multi-instrumentalist Hannah Marcus, drummer Ryan Sawyer, and bassist Nicolas Caloia plus some stellar guests notably the great, trombone icon, Steve Swell chipping in, she is in a universe where sounds flick back and forth in unexpected ways. A world of remnants and folk memory and yet the tramlines of the structures of the improvisations are always sketched out, rusting and warped.

Her approach is not one of easy answers: a rubbing out of bebop and then an imposition of new sounds on top of the remants with Memphis in her mind's eye and a bird's eye vision of its mythic present and searing past where the voice of the poet one we should be paying heed to but more a voice in the wilderness included in the panorama. A saga of cinematic scope. The story is not fully told yet what an achievement Coin Coin Chapter Four: Memphis is and further listening can only enlarge upon its array of detail.

Stephen Graham

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Plaistow, Titan, DYFL/Plaistow Music

First published in 2015. The Swiss have more than their fair share of top jazz piano trios. Plaistow however don’t correspond to the more usual Swiss model, which is often sleek and very hush-laden cerebral chamber jazz in outlook. Rather they …

Published: 8 Dec 2019. Updated: 24 months.

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First published in 2015. The Swiss have more than their fair share of top jazz piano trios. Plaistow however don’t correspond to the more usual Swiss model, which is often sleek and very hush-laden cerebral chamber jazz in outlook. Rather they harness the rattle and hum of techno and rock influences feeding deep into their sound, drummer Cyril Bondi cranking out a heavy and menacing almost industrialised beat on opener ‘Hyperion.’

Pianist Johann Bourquenez, the dominant instrumental voice, is a fund of limpid ideas, crisp riffs curling around the chunky double bass of Vincent Ruiz in an intricate two-step.

The trio recorded Titan in a studio in Fribourg in January this year, Bourquenez having shaped the tracks in preparation for the studio via beatboxes and sequencers.

Formed in Geneva and together 8 years with 3 albums under their belts already they’re a tight unit full of pent-up energy and a treasure trove of short pithy statements that depend on a less-is-more mentality and the huge resource of the piano.

Minimalist Terry Riley-like interlocking patterns say on the beginning of ‘Mimas’ are quickly transformed by skittering drum routines and a feverish momentum that could easily translate onto the dance floor, and on a track like ‘Iapetus’ the band somehow fold in a reggae beat without forcing the issue.

Plaistow aren’t about florid improvisational runs and cycles of bebop changes unlike say their fellow Swiss piano trio Vein and perhaps have more in common with another Swiss trio Rusconi.

But away from any comparisons that spring to mind Titan with all its moons of Saturn in the track titles is a fascinating and very modern 21st century non-purist version of the piano trio that keeps you guessing, Bourquenez’s baroque flights of fancy on ‘Daphnis’ a nod in the direction of another pioneer, Esbjörn Svensson. SG