Friday, March 11, 2016

Matana Roberts - Always (Relative Pitch, 2015)

Saxophonist and composer Matana Roberts takes a break from her extraordinary Coin Coin series of episodic albums to release an album of solo alto saxophone. There are no loops or effects or any other technology to fall back on – just her extraordinary talent and the legacy of solo saxophone performances running backwards from David S. Ware to Sonny Rollins and all the way back to Coleman Hawkins. She knows this all, and has assimilated their triumphs and used them as a stepping-stone for her own unaccompanied performance. Roberts’s spontaneous improvisation is broken into two parts, with “Improvisation 1” being the longest, clocking in at over thirty-three minutes. If you were expecting a full out free jazz blowout, you’re in for a big surprise because Roberts’ music deals with thoughtful subtlety and unveils its mysteries slowly. The tone she achieves on her instrument is alluring, but it also serves to keep you at a discreet distance, as she spools out tones of long quiet yearning and the patience with which she it willing to develop her ideas are very impressive. She is comfortable being out on a limb by herself, quietly confident in her abilities to tell a story with deep honesty and lyricism. During this lengthy improvisation she is able to explore the ample space around her and to use it at some points as a duet partner since there is no need to fill out all of the silence with cascading waves of shrill sound when well placed beats of silence can say just as much or even more. It is her authoritative mastery and control of her instrument and her complete focus on the task at hand that allow the music to flow out from her at such an unhurried pace and maintain a coherent narrative where nothing is repeated or recycled and the ideas seem boundless until she alone decides that it is time and brings the performance to a close. “Improvisation 2” is much shorter, a shade under ten minutes, and serves to show another aspect of her music. The raw and scouring sounds are a bracing jolt after the meditative nature of the prior improvisation. She is able to move dynamically from an anguished wail back to a more centered state where swirls of stoic waves of sound bring the program to a close. This was a very well done and thoughtful recital by a profoundly talented saxophonist, who had a clear idea of what she was looking to accomplish with this project and completed all of those goals. This was not some stop-gap off the cuff album put out in-between her larger projects, it is a definitive statement that stands on its own and announces to the world that Matana Roberts is truly a saxophonist to be reckoned with. Matana Roberts - Always - Relative Pitch Records.

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