Irreversible Entanglements Credit: Keir Neuringer

Few spoken-word artists working the posthip-hop landscape can match the intensity, precision, and metaphoric power of Philadelphia’s Moor Mother (aka Camae Ayewa); I’ve seen her twice this year, and both times she had total control of the audience by the end of the set. She’s involved with several collaborative projects, and one of the most exciting, Irreversible Entanglements, recently dropped its self-titled debut album, a joint release of Chicago’s International Anthem and New Jersey’s Don Giovanni. The quintet began as a partnership between Ayewa, 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 acoustic and largely improvised music provides a new context for Ayewa’s voice: at the start of the opening piece, “Chicago to Texas,” she sounds downright measured, 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 with Irreversible Entanglements, the musicians engage in classic improvisatory give-and-take. The album’s four tracks follow a single thread through a harrowing narrative journey, and 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 also draw upon contemporary extended techniques, such as unpitched air columns on the horns or frictive noise on percussion.   v