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Matana Roberts (above) is so relaxed tonight her short opening set is almost a lullaby. Playing alto-sax unaccompanied, she investigates melodic wisps with leisurely calm, occasionally breaking off to chat informally to the audience: she tells us she’s annoyed to find herself thinking about Donald Trump while she’s trying to “play the blues,” and goes on to encourage all of us to stop watching the news if we want to improve our mental health. A few more simple fragments of melody and she ends with a series of spoken homilies read from a battered notebook. “Let that shit go,” she advises. It’s everyday wisdom from the most laid-back preacher in town.

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All of which makes Irreversible Entanglements (above) seem even angrier by comparison. Poet/vocalist Camae Ayewa, also reading from a notebook, pours forth scalding jets of furious hellfire rage. “What are you doing in my neighbourhood? You don’t have the training to survive here,” she mocks, conjuring an undeclared civil war ripping the heart out of American cities. The rest of the band, too, seem wound up in a state of militant tension and ready to blow. For over an hour, without pause, they navigate a shifting, spontaneous terrain. Upright bassist Luke Stewart and drummer Tcheser Holmes are the engine, locking into fierce, urgent grooves while trumpeter Aquiles Navarro directs the musical flow, blowing barbed hooks that flutter like pennants on the battlefield. Saxophonist Keir Neuringer holds back, reluctant to crowd the theatre of operations, adding splashes of chiming percussion like a warrior priest inventing new rituals.

For the encore, Matana Roberts joins them on stage, dropping abrupt phrases into the melee while Ayewa’s scorched lyrics focus to a diamond hard sharpness. I can’t think of anyone else making music this tough right now.

Daniel Spicer
– Photos by Roger Thomas

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