By Ivana Ng | Published December 2019
“Memory is the most unusual thing,” Matana Roberts says repeatedly throughout Coin Coin Chapter Four: Memphis, the latest installment in a 12-part project that explores the reedist’s personal history and cultural lineage through an ethnographic lens. She methodically weaves childhood memories with reimagined jazz standards, African-American spirituals, avant-garde composition and instrumentation that evokes the American South.
Sam Shalabi contributes oud to the recording, its crisp, resonant tone capturing the stillness of a Southern summer, while Hannah Marcus’ fiddle conjures the folk tradition. Hymnal vocals and anguished reeds on “Jewels Of The Sky: Inscription” give way to a modern arrangement of “St. Louis Blues” on “Fit To Be Tied,” unrelenting horns and free improvisation on “Trail Of The Smiling Sphinx” and the Afro-futurist dimensions of “Shoes Of Gold.” Inspired by her maternal grandmother’s “Memphis-raised defiance,” the record centers nonmale voices and honors black resilience while examining the Roberts family’s dispersal and the historical context through which they moved. “Her Mighty Waters Run” is a round robin of femme voices that celebrate generational grit as they sing a newly arranged “Roll The Old Chariot Along.”
Roberts later triumphantly proclaims, “Live life out loud. Live life, stay proud,” concluding a deeply personal exploration of identity and lineage.
Coin Coin Chapter Four: Memphis: Memphis: Jewels Of The Sky: Inscription; As Far As Eyes Can See; Trail Of The Smiling Sphinx; Piddling; Shoes Of Gold; Wild Fire Bare; Fit To Be Tied; Her Mighty Waters Run; All Things Beautiful; In The Fold; Raise Yourself Up; Backbone Once More; How Bright They Shine. (46:47)
Personnel: Matana Roberts, alto saxophone, clarinet, vocals; Hannah Marcus, guitar, acoustic guitar, fiddle, accordion, vocals; Sam Shalabi, guitar, oud, vocals; Nicolas Caloia, bass, vocals; Ryan Sawyer, drums, vibraphone, jaw harp, bells, vocals; Steve Swell, trombone, vocals; Ryan White, vibraphone; Thierry Amar, Nadia Moss, Jessica Moss, Ian Ilavsky, vocals.