Matana Roberts' artistic practice exists at the intersection of various established traditions without expressing slavish devotion to any particular musical lineage. She plays saxophone and has been classified as a jazz artist, but she is also signed to Montreal-based Constellation Records; a label renowned for their association with post-rock juggernaut Godspeed! You Black Emperor, but increasingly a haven for uncompromising artist-driven projects whose only stylistic affinity is a relentless desire to push the boundaries of genre. She is a Chicago native, cutting her teeth in that city’s illustrious improvisation scene, and although she has called New York City home for over a decade, she shies away from the endless self-promotion that many of the city’s creative types use for their careers. Roberts maybe an avid Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr user, but she resides on a boat in Sheepshead Bay, far away from the more happening enclaves of Manhattan and North Brooklyn. Following the release of COIN COIN Chapter Two: Mississippi Moonchile in 2013, Matana's career entered a new phase of visibility and cultural impact in 2014, when she received the Herb Alpert Award and the Doris Duke Impact Award.
The stage was set for Robert’s most ambitious COIN COIN release to date, COIN COIN Chapter Three: river run thee is the latest installment of a twelve-part series, and the first solo chapter after two previous ensemble-based chapters. The conceptual background of river run thee incorporates a sojourn through the American South, the discovery of a 200-year-old ship captain’s diary, and seamlessely layered graphic scores, spoken word and live overdubs. In the hands of a lesser artist, these disparate elements might result in a confounding cacophony or simply a well-intentioned but over-ambitious "difficult album," but Roberts grounds river run thee in the human and the narrative, weaving her voice and a variety of melodies through the "panoramic sound quilting" that distinguishes her work. river run thee is another work of visceral sonic power and staggering depth from one of the continent’s most profound experimentalists (her term). AdHoc spoke with Matana by telephone while she endured a typically frigid January afternoon on her boat.
COIN COIN Chapter Three: river run thee is released Tuesday, February 3 on Constellation Records. Matana Roberts will play a record release show at Union Pool with Rain Machine and Ryan Sawyer/Nate Wooley/C.Spencer Yeh trio that night.
How did you end up living on a boat in Brooklyn?
I moved here in October. I spend a lot of time on the waterways, away from music. I kayak and surf and learned how to paddleboard through some free programming that happens on the Hudson. I got really into the water community in New York City, and you get into this thing where you start geeking out about water craft. I woke up one day last year and I was like “OK, I wanna get my Skipper’s License,” not knowing that many months later I would move onto a boat. There’s a boatel community in Queens, and I was curious what people were doing out there. One late night I just decided to look for a boat for rent. I’ve always wanted to live on a boat and it just so happened this whole last year I’ve been spending dealing with this Ship Captain’s diary and getting better at being out on the water myself. Being a New Yorker, it’s just hard to do stuff. So I thought living on the boat would also give me a chance to combine some things that I’m really into, and live in a way that is more reflective of my core values of caring about the environment and looking at the direct impact that I have as a human.
I’ve always tried to live in a way so that I go toward the things that happen, not navigate them.. When I started working on this record I had no idea that it would end with me being finished with the record and then a month later moving on to a boat. I couldn’t plan that if I tried!
I was living in Harlem and it was not a very positive space and I had to get going. Originally I was looking into the Rockaways but I’m still in Brooklyn. I’m in Sheepshead Bay, on the bottom [of the borough]! It’s far, but Brooklyn is so popular now and I wanted to get an experience of what Old Brooklyn is like. I love it, but I also feel like I'm in a foreign country because it’s a cinematic version of a Brooklyn I’ve never known. There are just so many things that I’m learning every day about this city that I thought I knew that I didn’t know.Read More