Matana Roberts

Chicago Reader

by Peter Margasak

When: Sat., Sept. 24, 4 & 6 p.m.
Price: $5 suggested donation

It’s impossible to guess what any given performance by Matana Roberts will entail—especially a solo set. The reedist, composer, and Chicago native’s two most recent albums are both solo efforts, and they could hardly be more different. Early last year she released River Run Thee (Constellation), the third and latest installment of her ambitious Coin Coin project, a sprawling genealogical exploration via music and text of the slave trade and African diaspora in North America. Years ago she described her technique to me as “panoramic sound quilting,” and that’s never been more apt—she layers spoken word, singing, atmospheric synth, and sweet melodies on alto saxophone as she melds original material with historical writings, old American patriotic songs, spirituals, and more. This heady concoction is sometimes hard to parse, but its richness and originality have kept me coming back. Last year Roberts also dropped Always (Relative Pitch), a more conventional solo effort featuring only her gorgeous, elliptical alto moving patiently through a wide variety of moods and approaches united by an emotionally moving air of contemplation. I saw her play solo in September 2015 at the Guelph Jazz Festival, where she split the difference between the two albums by alternating beautiful, improvised alto passages with intimate, spellbinding storytelling that combined elements from her Coin Coin research with spontaneous observations. She even got the audience involved, asking us to hum a steady long tone for her to work off, then to join in on the chorus of her devastating version of Oscar Brown Jr.’s “Bid ’Em In.” It took me hours to process the experience—and I’m ready for a new one.

Critic's Choice

Univ. of Chicago Logan Center for the Arts

915 E. 60th St. Hyde Park