Matana Roberts - Live in London (2011)


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A few years ago when I sat down and took a stab at identifying some up and coming women in a world of instrumental jazz still dominated by men, one of those ten names that came to mind was avant-garde saxophonist Matana Roberts.

After moving to NYC from her Windy City hometown she finally led a record, The Chicago Project, and created a lot of buzz in 2008. Count this writer as among one of the impressed, as I recounted that it “reveals how well she has grasped some deep harmonic concepts while injecting a great deal of humanness and spirituality into her work." The critical success of her debut led to much anticipation for what she would do for an encore, and that encore became realized last February 22 with the release of Live In London.

The second album might be a tad too early to some for a live document, but not to someone like Roberts, whose entire mode of operation is creating on the spot. That spirituality which marked the first record is carried over for the second one. As a live performance across the pond, it doesn't have the benefit of changing the personnel around to meet each song's unique challenges or the luxury of being able to overdub sax parts, but the immediacy of playing in front of crowd replaces that. In fact, Roberts' British backing players Tom Mason (bass), Robert Mitchell (piano) and Chris Vatalaro (drums) weren't even introduced to the original compositions of the set beforehand. That's really remarkable when hearing a group of performances that have a natural ebb and flow to them, a Roberts hallmark.

The opening half hour epic “My Sistr" draws nearly equally from the musical auras of Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane and Pharaoh Sanders, reaching for an ambitious scope to match those mighty forefathers. The succinctly ten-minute “Pieces of We" finds its groove in its controlled chaos. “Glass," like “Sistr" explores much more ideas within a song that Roberts attempted on her debut album. After a lengthy introduction, the main melody of Thelonius Monk's “Oska T" (incorrectly credited to Duke Ellington on the CD back cover) is played with a keenness typical of Roberts' more traditional jazz side.

I still prefer The Chicago Project overall, but Live In London is no sophomore jinx. Roberts furthers her reputation by demonstrating that she can pour out both her emotions and virtuosity in equal heaping helpings on the high wire act of an unrehearsed stage performance.

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