Matana Roberts (right), backed by Hill Greene on bass.
Jeremiah (left) and Shane Endsley.
L-R: Jeremiah, Hill Greene (background), Shane Endsley, Tomas Fujiwara (background), Matana Roberts.
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For saxophonist Matana Roberts, making music feels like family — literally. Her ongoing project COIN COIN is inspired by her intense genealogical research, centered loosely on the distant Louisiana relative Marie Therese Metoyer, a.k.a. "Coincoin." Among other things, Coincoin was variously a slave, a "free person of color" and a slave owner herself. Roberts' COIN COIN compositions reflect this tangled historical web, blending different strains of music with theatrical performance.
NPR Music and WBGO presented Matana Roberts and her ensemble, performing Chapter Two of COIN COIN, titled "Mississippi Moonchile," in a live webcast Jun. 24, 2010. In one continuous performance, the group took on many different styles in Southern music, transitioning between down-home swing, exploratory free improvisation and everything in between. There were words too: Roberts delivered spoken word prose, cued the full-voiced singer Jeremiah, and even led a soothing a cappella call-and-response section. The concert was part of the CareFusion Jazz Festival New York, and was held at the Jazz Gallery, the intimate downtown Manhattan venue known for presenting up-and-coming artists.
Born and raised in Chicago, Roberts considers two local tenor saxophonists, free-blowing Fred Anderson and hard-bop stalwart Von Freeman, her mentors. That fact speaks to the many musical communities she traverses, from free-improvising ensembles to rock bands. Under her own name, she maintains several different groups: Some are conceptual in frame, like COIN COIN; others approach forward-thinking jazz in and of itself.