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Friday, March 22, 2024

Moor Mother – The Great Bailout (Anti-, 2024)

Although Moor Mother (Camae Ayewa) has received justified acclaim for her vocal work with Irreversible Entanglements, that praise has to some extent overshadowed the attention given to the substantial series of solo albums and other collaborative projects she has pursued since the 2010s. Perhaps that will change with The Great Bailout. With a harrowing and relentless interrogation of Great Britain’s legacy of slavery and colonialism, this uncompromising artist sketches a world in sound that demands to be heard. It is a listening experience both challenging and immensely rewarding.

This is Moor Mother’s ninth studio album under her own name, and her third with the Anti- label. Her previous Anti- release, 2022’s Jazz Codes, was a kaleidoscopic engagement with the jazz tradition itself, drawing from a pan-idiomatic template in celebrating and scrutinizing the work of artists from Woody Shaw to Joe McPhee to Mary Lou Williams. The sound collages on The Great Bailout continue to mine the resources of jazz, but they appear as fugitive traces rather than sustained explorations. But they are no less powerful for that, to be sure.

The opening strains of “Guilty” establish the trajectory of the album, with a disarmingly lilting soundscape undergirded by harpist Mary Lattimore and vocalists Lonnie Holley and Raia Was, before Moor Mother’s emphatic entrance in which she questions and confronts the historical weight of oppression through half-whispered, half-shouted entreaties. It is a dichotomous effect that recurs throughout the record: the music, which is sometimes quite beautiful, is continuously disrupted and threatened by the horrific subject matter.

Each track is tightly constructed, without an emphasis on spontaneous improvisation. The voices from the jazz world are instead woven deftly into the fabric of each track: “Liverpool Wins” contains haunting echoes from Sarah Vaughan, while Lester Bowie’s trumpet winds its way through “God Save the Queen,” and Angel Bat Dawid’s inimitable clarinet moans like a wraith through the brutally grim “South Sea.” But as with Jazz Codes, these elements are filtered through Moor Mother’s broad stylistic prism, one that seeks to move beyond musical category altogether, into a much more amorphous realm.

The album’s title is a reference to England’s Slavery Abolition Act of 1833, which resulted in a massive taxpayer-funded effort to compensate British slaveholders when slavery was finally abolished in the empire. The fortunes of thousands, including the ancestors of Prime Ministers William Gladstone and David Cameron, were enlarged through this unprecedented act of government largesse (or theft, more accurately). While the attempt to obtain justice for the long legacy of slavery both in Britain and elsewhere will undoubtedly remain pressing for generations to come, recordings like The Great Bailout will continue their vital work of disturbing, troubling, and probing the consciences of those who will have to heed this call.