Matana Roberts (pronounced mah-tah-nah) is one of the leading lights of contemporary African-American experimental music, combining her widely recognized gifts as an alto saxophone player and improviser with an intensely engaged re-definition of American Jazz traditions.
Matana's COIN COIN project is the centerpiece of this engagement and re-definition: a multi-chapter work that combines conceptual scoring (graphic notation, 'chance' strategies), storytelling and historical narrative, performative theatre (personae, costume, multi-media), and a deeply considered channeling of personal ancestry and the 'universal' experience of Africans in America.
Roberts began spending significant amounts of time in Montreal during the second half of the 2000s and has been an on-and-off resident of the city since 2008. While she was familiar to Constellation as early as 2001 (through her work with Sticks And Stones and her guest performance on Godspeed You! Black Emperor's Yanqui U.X.O. album), it was through the evolution of her mesmerizing COIN COIN project that we fully fell under her spell – as did the dozen or more Montreal musicians who began working with her on the music and in performance.
COIN COIN Chapter One: Gens de Couleur Libres is the first official recording of this ambitious and powerful project. We invited Matana to assemble her Montreal group for a live in-studio performance at the Hotel2Tango facility, before a small but capacity audience of about 30 friends and supporters. The band spend the entire day running things through while recording engineer Radwan Moumneh set microphones and levels. The evening performance was stunning, literally bringing audience members to tears, and went to tape beautifully. The full 90-minute performance was edited down to around 60 minutes, comprising four quarter-hour suites spread across four sides of 10" vinyl.
Says Matana: “COIN COIN is a compositional sound language, that I have been developing since 2006. My initial interest in creating this work came from my childhood fascination with ghosts, spirits, spooks, and the faint traces of what they leave behind. I have a deep interest in old, antique objects of human existence, mostly because of the variety of story that can be created, factual or not, from the possibility of their being. This project is a combination of those interests as well as my delight in musical communication , ritual adornment, and the genealogical 20th century history of Africans in America. In some instances I am using information that I have gleaned from research into my own ancestral history, as inspiration and area of creative consideration. The musical root of much of this work also stems from my continued attraction/repulsion to certain aspects of the American Jazz tradition(s) which I am deeply involved with as an alto saxophonist.”
To us, COIN COIN represents some of the most honest and compelling work – musically and thematically – that we've had the privilege to be associated with. It rallies adventurous improv, experimental voice and narrative, a wide array of black folkways, and Matana's impassioned lead playing to tremendous emotional and conceptual effect.