By Ed Enright | Published November 2023
Protect Your Light is Irreversible Entanglements’ most ambitious and compelling work to date, representing a group evolution–continuum that stretches back to its three previous albums cut for Chicago’s International Anthem label. Primarily recorded by core collective members Camae Ayewa (aka Moor Mother) on vocals, bassist Luke Stewart, trumpeter Aquiles Navarro, saxophonist Keir Neuringer and drummer Tcheser Holmes over three days at Rudy Van Gelder Studios in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, the album delivers a powerful program of succinct compositions, free-jazz explorations, spoken-word poetry and unyielding rhythms. Protect Your Light features simpatico contributions from members of the group’s extended community — pianist Janice A. Lowe, cellist Lester St. Louis and vocalist Sovei — who help illuminate the band’s dexterity, intensify group energy levels and expand its already broad collective consciousness (which includes a healthy shared obsession with jazz history). The music was composed both individually and collectively, with some themes brand-new, and others rooted in IE’s wholly improvised live performances. Overall, the group’s focus this time around is on what their manager described in a recent DownBeat interview as “song” songs — the result of having more time to work together on specific material rather than relying on content born of the long free-improv jams they’ve become known for over the past eight years. This important album’s eight tracks are easy on the digestion, and Ayewa’s lyrics say a whole lot without saying too much, her alto vocal delivery steady and at times repetitive when appropriate. Her incantations for social-justice awareness and the spread of mutual love land on the listener with the conviction and reassuring tone of a favorite teacher, a thoughtful preacher or the calm voice of truth that dwells inside our heads. The audio production is contemporary and clean, with no overdone effects despite the album’s modern-day, in-the-moment attitude. The stereo image of alto saxophone in one ear and trumpet in the other conjures a vivid on-stage visual, especially when the musicians are improvising together. During the composed, time-suspended free-jazz melody passages, the group instrumentation sounds absolutely huge, with lots of sax vibrato, trumpet flare-ups and forte dynamics coming in and out of play. As Ayewa intones on the closing track, “Degrees Of Freedom,” “Let the horns cry out and scream out.” In so doing, they spur the creation of something completely different, a fascinating work of art whose existence is exactly what it’s supposed to be, perfectly in place on the great curve of the universe. Currently on tour in Europe, Irreversible Entanglements will perform Nov. 10 in Paris (at the Festival d’Automne à Paris); Nov. 11 in Rotterdam, The Netherlands (at LantarenVenster); Nov. 12 in Ultrecht, The Netherlands (at Le Guess Who?); and Nov. 15 in London (at the EFG London Jazz Festival).