Winter Jazzfest, New York City, Day 1: January 7, 2011

Gordon Marshall By

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Matana Roberts, the striking, beautiful and charismatic saxophonist of Chicago origin, appeared onstage at the Zinc Bar at 11:30. This was the most coveted ticket of the festival, and she delivered an exquisite, entirely solo performance. Like Charles Gayle, the logic of her style defies analysis. Even more than Gayle, it actively rebuffed intellectualization, however heady and carefully considered. Watching her breathe through the bell of her instrument evoked the image of a tulip blooming, a diaphanous organism at one with a cosmically complex universe, but happening in a time of its own, beyond comprehension, perhaps, by virtue solely of its radical simplicity. It was the kind of performance, like the singer in Wallace Stevens' poem "The Idea of Order at Key West," that brought attention not to itself, but rather to its environment and that of the audience's and its own tiny place in it, leaving the crowd only to marvel and breathe deeply in transcendent relaxation.

Roberts concluded with a story about a pair of transcendent musical moments that she had witnessed in the last 24 hours: one was Giuseppi Logan playing alone in Tompkins Square Park; and the other was a milk truck driver playing saxophone during his lunch break in the back of his truck, as that was his only opportunity to practice. It was only natural that Roberts—whose music is so reflective of nature and environment—was so reflective and aware of her own environment, continually drawing attention beyond herself, and away from the ego and into the mystic.

Photo Credit Dave Kaufman

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