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Matana Roberts Chicago Project Review

Album. Released 2008.  

BBC Review

Time will tell whether Matana can develop her undoubted skills into something which...

Nick Reynolds 2008

Matana is a saxophonist active on the New York and Chicago jazz and improv scenes where she's played with just about everyone from Peter Brotzmann to God Speed You! Black Emperor. The discordant fanfare of Exchange signals that this is demanding music, with different sections and tempos cut together. It's busy, loquacious and angular and squarely in debt to the 'new thing' of the sixties. You have to pay attention. There is a ballad, Nomra, but the rest doesn't let up. Love Call is a ten minute free form 'out there' improvisation that could have been played by Coltrane's final quartet in 1966.

She's ably and energetically supported by Josh Abrahams (bass), Frank Rosaly (drums) and guitarist Jeff Parker (of Tortoise). Guitarist Parker has the most original tone of the four, simultaneously edgy and slippery, like a punk Bill Frisell. Standout tracks are the three improvisations (Birdhouse 1 –3) with just Matana and guest, veteran sax player Fred Anderson. These are delightful and give the listener some much needed space to rest.

You can't fault Matana’s energy or writing skills. So why thereservations? Well, the production is basic. Two tracks fade out rather oddly. And for all its toughness and intensity you have a feeling this might just be 'heritage jazz'. Unlike European jazz acts like EST, Gilead Atzmon or even The-Quartet there's no sense that the sonic innovations or musical ideas of the past thirty years have touched Matana's music (there are no Radiohead or world music influences here).

So while this is impressive, time will tell whether Matana can develop her undoubted skills into something which has a more contemporary feel.

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