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Matana Roberts: Always

Mark Corroto By

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The saxophone is possibly the musical instrument that produces a sound closest to the human voice. Listening to a virtuoso saxophonist like Matana Roberts, one hears more than just breath through a reed instrument. Her solo recording Always, travels beyond voice, to mind, body, and spirit.

Recorded in studio, without the benefit of a reflecting audience, the experience is one of a voyeur to the saxophonist's most private thoughts. Offered with excellent sound, the recording reproduces fingers on keys, breath into and out of lungs, the architecture of Robert's frame -nasal cavity, ribs, diaphragm, tongue, teeth, and lips. Listening to Always, one wishes Joe McPhee had a similar space and this technology when he recorded Tenor (Hatology) in 1976 or that John Coltrane could have wired his practice room with 21st century equipment.

Matana Roberts alone with her thoughts here produces two untitled tracks, the first a 33-minute long-distance trek through the valleys of her experience. The second a 10-minute jostle with a bit more muscle for elbow room. This solo recording comes on the heels of her solo Coin Coin Chapter 3 River Run Thee (Constellation, 2015) the third installment of her 12-part project that explores her African-American history and femininity. Just as the Coin Coin series has downsized from an orchestra, to a small ensemble, to Roberts' overdubbing electronics, spoken word, and song onto saxophone, this session pares down even further to just saxophone.

Like Coin Coin this session draws from the saxophonist's roots in Chicago's AACM and recordings by fellow artists Anthony Braxton and Roscoe Mitchell. Like the African-American migration to Chicago, Roberts' sound begins in the South. She begins the journey with simple clear notes, delivered in layers, as if she were building a house. First comes the basement of blues, then the walls of trust, and then decoration of color. Roberts applies bits of Thelonious Monk's angularity, Lester Young's gentle touch, and splashes of folk music.

The music, one gets the notion, is as much for her ears as the listener's. She has set aside conscious striving for flow and the music reflects the same. Her approach is a meandering discovery of treasure. The shorter second piece picks up the pace, as if her trek must now get home before dark. She sparks a more assertive approach; even her breaths are more urgent here. Underlying all is the corporeal substance of her being. That essence of her spirit's expression that shines throughout this recording.

Track Listing: Untitled N. 1; Untitled N. 2.

Personnel: Matana Roberts: alto saxophone.

Title: Always | Year Released: 2015 | Record Label: Relative Pitch Records

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