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MATANA ROBERTS

Matana Roberts Photo 2
Photograph from Matana Roberts Website

Saxophonist Matana Roberts was born in Chicago thirty-two years ago. Her father, a political analyst and a fan of 'free jazz' musicians such as Sun Ra and Albert Ayler, introduced his daughter to the music when she was five.

But Matana (pronounced mah-tah-Na and meaning 'gift' in Hebrew) preferred classical music when she first took up the clarinet. Speaking to music journalist Kevin Le Gendre who nominated her in Jazzwise as 'the person to look out for in 2008', she said, 'In my dad's music, I couldn't understand the format, whereas in classical music things were very clear'.

But when she went to high school, she was given a saxophone by Reginald Willis, one of her teachers. 'He was like, 'O.K. this is it. I want you to play sax in our jazz band', and that kind of clicked'.

In time, she went on to join AACM (the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians) the musician's collective in Chicago. In that 'Toddlin' Town' she received enthusiastic encouragement and support from guitar player Jeff Parker and saxophonist Von Freemen, and Fred Anderson, who owned the Velvet Lounge gave her opportunities to play at his club. Gradually, the sounds of rock, dub, electronica and improvisation began to influence her playing.

In her conversation with Kevin Le Gendre Matana recalled how she was once fired from a band in Chicago 'because they wanted me to dance and shake my ass. They were like 'you're always doing that Coltrane stuff, but we want you to wear shorter skirts'.....I like to celebrate being a woman, but you're not gonna see me on the back of my album half-naked or something'.

When Kevin interviewed her, Matana had rust-coloured dreadlocks, nose rings, tattooed arms, a floor-skimming skirt and heavy duty boots. She now lives in New York and reflected on the growing diversity of women playing jazz there. In Chicago she was just one of three female horn players, but in New York she found others. She points out how in the male-dominated world of horn playing, women are rarely talked about with the same reverence as their male peers, and she names saxophonist Vi Redd, pianist Erma Thompson, tenor saxophonist Erica Lindsay and pianist Angelica Sanchez as those who have deserved more prominence.

The situation may be similar in the U.K., and women horn players are worthy of more attention. Trumpeters like Sue Richardson or saxophonist Jo Fookes, to name just two.

Matana is essentially a freelance musician and very much in demand. She is a Van Lier fellow and a 2008 nominee for the Alpert Award in the Arts. Her work has been commissioned by the Jerome Foundation, the Brecht Forum and the Roulette Intermedium. Of her work she says: 'I do the work I do because it is a way for me to deal with creating meaning for my own life whilst at the same time being in direct service to others ... in the form of inspiration and thought provocation through musical sound that is representative of my own personal ideas, dreams and desires'.

One of her recent undertakings is a ten segment ensemble piece called 'COIN COIN' based on her family's African American history over ten generations.

Another is a homage to her home town - 'The Chicago Project'. Produced by pianist Vijay Iyer and engineered by John McEntire, drummer and multi-instrumentalist from Tortoise, it features a number of musicians from Chicago. 'There is a cross-over between different kinds of music,' she says, ' I mean a track like 'Thrills' is about the way that a lot of different scenes cross each other in Chicago. I'm talking about improvisers playing in post-indie rock bands, hip hop or all sorts of things, just flowing into one another'.

People have saiMatana Roberts Photo 3d of her playing:
'Roberts is a deep traditionalist who looks beyond the rigid distictions and definitions of musical style.'
(Chicago Defender), and

'Roberts is a fluid, elegant player who rejects the star soloist approach of many a saxophonist.' (BBC Jazz), and

'Her music is expressive, high-minded and serious, but where it should be fearsome, it comes out as joyous and affirmative.' (Manchester Evening News).

 

But judge for yourself. Go to Matana's website www.mantanaroberts.com and then click on 'sounds' to the left of the page. The website will also give you more information about Matana.

Matana also has a Myspace site at www.myspace.com/matanaroberts which includes music clips and her forthcoming tour dates.

You can also read in full Kevin Le Gendre's interview with Matana from The Guardian by clicking here: Interview

Matana Roberts Live In LondonIn 2011, Matana's album 'Live In London' brought her avante-garde jazz up to date. Recorded at the Vortex Club in November 2010 as part of the London Jazz Festival, the opening track My Sistr lasts a full 37 minutes.

The Guardian is quoted as saying: 'Free jazz of a 1960s vintage vibrates through Roberts' hot, vocalised tone, but herMatana Roberts contemporaneity is apparent in crunching funk grooves and bursts of loop-repeating phrasing'.

This unrehearsed gig with Matana (saxophone), Robert Mitchell (piano), Tom Mason (bass) and Chris Vatalaro (drums) played to a sold-out crowd.

The album was released on the 14th February. To taste some of the album, click on the tracks: My Sistr : Pieces Of We : Oska T : Exchange : Glass : Turn It Around :

Click here for a video of Matana playing at the Vortex club in 2009, and click here for a video of her playing South By West at the London Jazz Festival in 2007.

 

Matana Roberts and Ian Maund 2008-2015

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