Camae Ayewa, aka Moor Mother, has always been one to cite her sources. In addition to performing as a member of Philly-based free-jazz collective Irreversible Entanglements, the contralto wordsmith has frequently paid homage to the jazz, blues, and gospel canons in her solo work, beginning with her 2016 debut, Fetish Bones, and continuing through last year’s Black Encyclopedia of the Air. Ayewa described those canons in a 2021 interview with Pitchfork: “Not only is it Black American classical music, but it’s also a liberation technology.”
Moor Mother’s new album, Jazz Codes (Anti-), is a collage-style tribute to Ayewa’s musical forebears. She conceived it as a companion piece to Black Encyclopedia, and Jazz Codes is undoubtedly the clumsier sibling. While it’s a solid record for Moor Mother novices, and there are plenty of bangers throughout, Ayewa’s verses lack the freshness they have on previous releases—missing are the white-hot fervor and spontaneity of Fetish Bones and the volleying wit she showcased on Brass, her 2020 collaboration with rapper Billy Woods of Armand Hammer.
“Meditation Rag” is a particularly sore thumb; its verses SparkNote a century of jazz history with a wink and a nudge. That’s not to besmirch the sonic makeup of Jazz Codes, though. Ayewa has assembled remarkable collaborators: harpist Mary Lattimore, pianist Jason Moran, flutist Nicole Mitchell, and her Irreversible Entanglements compatriots, to name a few. On the whole, Jazz Codes is a worthy album-length extension of Ayewa’s eponymous verses in “The Blues Remembers Everything the Country Forgot,” off Brass: It’s history you can hear, and it always gets truer.
This item has been updated from its print version in order to address a mistake in quoted lyrics.
Moor Mother’s Jazz Codes is available through Bandcamp.