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Friday, March 14, 2008

Matana Roberts - The Chicago Project (Central Control, 2008) ****

I'm so happy to hear a new Matana Roberts album. Her Sticks & Stones records are worth looking for, especially Shed Grace, because she is a wonderful synthesist, integrating the best of modern free jazz in her music, as she does here. At least the sound quality is much better than last year's Utech release (see also her comment about this). Her quartet consists of herself on alto, Jeff Parker on guitar, Josh Abrams on bass and Frank Rosaly on drums, all Chicagoans, hence the title. Her compositions are very melodic and rhythmic, yet very free at the same time, very soulful and bluesy, in the best AACM tradition. And the great thing here is the variation she brings into every piece, which are well-structured, with lots of style variations, rhythm and tempo changes, while maintaining this free edge. The addition of Jeff Parker on guitar is a good one, because his playing is at times harsh and unpredictable, pushing Roberts into new musical areas, and at other times, gentle and traditional as can be, as on "Nomra". Roberts's tone is warm and clear, and her indebtedness to Coltrane is clear, both in her playing as in her composing, especially on "Love Call" and "South By West". The first is initially as expansive and spiritual in its approach as Coltrane himself, yet moving into Brötzmann territory, the latter ends in a beautiful duet with Parker's guitar. Fred Anderson is her sparring partner on three sax duets : "Birdhouse 1", "Birdhouse 2" and "Birdhouse 3". Despite these tracks improvisational abstractness, the soulful and bluesy undertone remains a constant. Yet the most beautiful piece is "Exchange", which shifts from a free boppy high intensity start, past some abstract unisono transition into an absolutely wonderful bluesy melody, then to free improv, and back again. A rich, creative, expressive, varied and synthetic album. We need more of this.

Listen to
Love Call
Birdhouse 2

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