On Tuesday, October 1, Ars Nova kickstarted its annual revolution of jazz with a duet of dualities. That was Roscoe Mitchell, cofounder of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians and the Art Ensemble of Chicago, and Moor Mother, poet and flaming star across the sky of music, a portent of greatness to come. Their playing was altogether sensitive, abrasive, and transcendent, altering the very substance of reality, free with tones, improvisation, and an unbidding sense of a love that had gone through hurt.
Inverse and obverse
Inverse is that which is pulled inside-out, and “obverse” is that which forms opposition through reversal. On the left side was Roscoe Mitchell, spreading himself into multiplicities: an array of bells, tubular glockenspiels, and saxophones. They glittered in ever-present hues of red—reflecting the Ruba Club in stately decay and decadence.
On the right side was Moor Mother, herself the multiplicity containing an ever-growing collection of voices manipulated with bodies organic and electric—the lips, throat, and chest, the delay pedal and decimator. Their book Fetish Bones, serving as the object of reverence and source of words.
Swirl, coherence, invocation
The collapse of a history of jazz, of oral memory, of pain into a gesture of love to a child, a shriek, a deep grumble between the teeth set to swirl within digital waters alongside clashing overtones of dis-tuned bells.
This was sound as taffy stretched along a machine. Sound as a gateway to everything that lashes through history into our contemporary coherence, the building blocks of reality.
I’d lost track of time, focusing in on Moor Mother’s smooth, harsh, then demonic and then sweet voice slowly unfolding an image of profound beauty and resilience in the face of trauma through the steady drip of words and phrases. I had put Mitchell in the background until his wailing on short saxophone came roaring to the forefront, ripping the very air to pieces with deft manipulation of timbre, pitch, and volume. At the radiating, hissing, and resonating heart of the evening, I came close to crying.
In part what allowed these psychic metaphors, this story of stories to unfold was the degree of familiarity and technical know-how displayed by these two incredible musicians. Moor Mother’s utilization of verbal repetition while performing an erased form of her poetry let her later electronic and oral distortions retain comprehensibility while still achieving profound emotional and gestural effect. It always seemed as if Mitchell knew just what to do to provide appropriate affect, relief, and accompaniment to Moor Mother’s hypnotic vocalizations.
A fitting start
If this duo performs together again and you can witness it, drop what you are doing and go. This is the music, the people that need to be heard. This is wisdom, crackling at the surface of transcendence.
For Ars Nova, an organization which, for better or worse, sometimes seems to hover in its own circle of elite jazz (and correspondingly elite ticket prices), it’s hard to imagine a better start to an entire month of “revolutionary” events than this one.
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What, When, Where
Moor Mother and Roscoe Mitchell, presented by Ars Nova on October 1, 2019 at the Ruba Club, 416 Green Street, Philadelphia. arsnovaworkshop.org.
The Ruba Club is not wheelchair-accessible.