Saxophonist and composer Matana Roberts has been involved in a lengthy genealogical exploration of her family’s rich history, and in doing so has conceived of an ambitious twelve part experience of music, narrative and sound. Part one is this album, subtitled Chapter One: Gens De Couleur Libres which is a fascinating mix of genres, ideas and song. There is the raw toned tenor saxophone that she has developed a unique tone on in instrumental pieces like the opening "Rise," which move through free and intense areas of exploration providing an opening into the story. Roberts also sings quite well on the album, but the centerpiece is her haunting narration of a slave auction on “Libation For Mr. Brown: Bid ‘em In” where she throws her heart and soul into the scorn and shame of American slavery. It’s an unforgettable narrative, akin to Abbey Lincoln’s work with Max Roach on songs like “Driva’ Man.” This is one of the most unique musical experiences to be released in 2011, and really succeeds where well meaning but overly bloated efforts like Wynton Marsalis’ epic Blood on the Fields have faltered. By breaking her narrative down into discreet parts, she is developing a project akin to the late clarinetist John Carter’s Roots and Folklore series of albums, which examined the African-American experience through music. Part history lesson, part protest album, and all jazz in its soul and conception, this is a thoughtful and valuable project that deserves much attention. Coin Coin Chapter One: Gens De Couleur Libre - amazon.com
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John Butcher - Nigemizu (Uchimizu, 2015) ****½
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