CD Review: Matana Roberts

Live In London
(Central Control CCI014CD)

Reviewed by JJ Wheeler

Chicago born, New York based Matana Roberts was first exposed to the music of Albert Ayler aged five. If only we all were.

Live In London, Roberts’ second release, displays a set of tight-rope walking, knife-edge improvisation from a group who (with the exception of the bandleader) apparently had never rehearsed, heard or even seen most of the music before. What results, somewhat surprisingly, is over an hour of intelligent, fluidly developing music.

Recorded in front of a full house at that beloved of London jazz clubs, The Vortex, simple themes expand, bloom, then curve away onto new paths with great panache, most of the time directed by the superbly controlled, although occasionally gritty saxophone of Roberts.

Supported by bassist Tom Mason, solid and responsive, Chris Valataro on drums and Robert Mitchell on piano, Roberts is in fine company, the latter playing a particularly key role in colouring the often-repetitive statements a diverse range of shades. Valataro swings and grooves like any great drummer from New York, as well as having the wherewithal to drop out when appropriate, or add his own textures through cymbals roll and drum strokes.

At times one can hear a distinct searching quality to the music, somewhat similar to mid-’60s Coltrane, at others points homage to the jazz heritage, including incredibly bluesy moments on Duke Ellington’s Oska T and set closer ExchangePieces Of We grooves like nobodies business, one of the most beautiful, yet exhilarating lines I’ve heard in a long time used as a setup.

There’s nothing that new within the format of this music; it’s been done before. Nonetheless, the standard of musicianship and the high level of interaction make this an intriguing album, only added to by the story behind the recording.



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  1. Robert Mitchell by Russ Escritt | thejazzbreakfast

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