Irreversible Entanglements Credit: Keir Neuringer

Last month Philadelphia MC, poet, and sound artist Moor Mother (aka Camae Ayewa) gave a riveting performance at the Hideout, driving her fevered, politically charged oratory with blown-out beats, scuffed-up samples, and in-the-red synths. Few of the spoken-word artists working the post-hip-hop landscape can match her intensity, precision, and metaphoric power; I’ve seen her twice this year, and both times she had total control of the audience by the end of the set. Whether or not the crowd grasped the nuanced indictments of America’s racist history in her texts, they submitted to the spell she cast with the righteous anger of her delivery.

Ayewa is a community-rooted artist, having cofounded Rockers! (a monthly Philly music series devoted to marginalized artists) and worked as a workshop facilitator with youth-centered programs, nonprofits, and shelters. In keeping with that outlook, she’s involved with several collaborative projects, and one of the most exciting dropped its self-titled debut album today. Irreversible Entanglements began as a partnership with Philadelphia saxophonist Keir Neuringer and D.C. bassist Luke Stewart, and now includes New York drummer Tcheser Holmes and trumpeter Aquiles Navarro as well; the album is out digitally now, and will arrive on LP and CD on December 1 as a joint venture by Chicago’s eclectic International Anthem and New Jersey postpunk imprint Don Giovanni. The acoustic and largely improvised music provides a much different context for Ayewa’s voice: at the start of the opening piece, “Chicago to Texas,” she sounds downright measured, with the quartet mirroring her reserve, but the performance grows more heated and cutting as it progresses. Ayewa avoids familiar hip-hop rhythms and the cliched sing-song cadences of poetry slams, instead summoning a fury to match her message: her voice rises and falls, accelerates and decelerates, interacting with the band with incredible subtlety.

When Ayewa performs as Moor Mother, her electronic backing generally rhymes with the intensity of her voice, but here the musicians engage in classic improvisatory give-and-take, responding to this or pushing against that. Though the thrilling dialogue between band and vocalist evokes Amiri Baraka‘s powerful 1960s work with Sunny Murray or the New York Art Quartet, the musicians here also draw upon contemporary extended techniques, such as unpitched air columns on the horns or frictive noise on percussion. The album’s four tracks follow the single thread of a harrowing narrative journey, and on the second, “Fireworks,” the band evoke the classic sound of Ornette Coleman’s quartet.
Today’s playlist:

Tristan Honsinger, Picnic (Corbett vs. Dempsey/Data)
Alisa Weilerstein, Shostakovich: Cello Concertos 1 & 2 (Decca)
Easy Kabaka Brown, Opotopo (Soundway)
Betty Davis, Betty Davis (Light in the Attic/Just Sunshine)
Zywinza, Plays Zaswiec Niesiacku and Other Kurpian Songs (Bolt)