“It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got the blues” parts Camae Ayewa on Evening; one of the many fine tracks from Moor Mother’s latest offering, Jazz Codes.
A key figure in the three-pronged assault unit alongside Kevin Martin and Justin Broadrick as Zonal, over the past seven years, Moor Mother has swiftly become one of the key voices of underground artistic expression.
With an impressive solo body of work already under her belt (last year’s Black Encyclopaedia of the Air at the top of the highlight reel), the Philadelphia-based poet and activist has featured in a plethora of collaborations, too, including the 2020 LP, BRASS with Billy Woods, live compilations with Olof Melander and Nicole Mitchell – the latter two featuring on Jazz Codes, as well as the small matter of spearheading International Anthem mainstays, Irreversible Entanglements.
There have been many others too, of course, with Ayewa offering her apocalyptic brogue to The Bug’s Fire, with one of the album’s highlights in Vexed.
Having already released the latest 700 Bliss LP, Nothing to Declare (yet another collaboration featuring New Jersey-born DJ Haram), the dread poet quickly backs it up with Jazz Codes: an offering jam-packed with smoky atmospheres which sees Moor Mother taking a deep dive into the origins of jazz.
Opener, UMZANSI is more like a composition than song. Featuring Black Quantum Futurism and Mary Lattimore, the trio unfurl a series of paranoid soundscapes, scraping together a plethora of ideas from all over the globe.
And from here Ayewa orchestrates a canyon wide genre-hopping extravaganza. In many respects this is world music. The spatial skronk and atmospheric bluster of APRIL 7th. GOLDEN LADY (featuring Melanie Charles) and ODE TO MARY (featuring Orion Sun and Jason Moran); soulful sprawls entwined with Ayewa’s cold-eyed poeticism, which continues on the street-level rap of WOODY SHAW (again featuring Charles) and BLAME (featuring Justmadnice). Here, Ayewa illuminates the streets with bone-raw argot.
Like a humid psychedelic fever dream, MEDITATION RAG (featuring Aquiles Navarro) takes us on a historic journey of jazz. This is no open-top bus tour, though. This is poetry dispensed by a new leader.
And the poetic nuance continues on SO SWEET AMINA (again featuring Justmadnice, this time alongside Keir Neuringer) and ARMS SAVE (featuring Mitchell). Here Moor Mother produces inflections of chamber jazz: a kind of warped take that few in this space dare to explore let alone execute.
Then there’s Barely Woke. “Too much surveillance on me/ Cameras, they zoom in on me” and “I’m running for orbit/Let me spit my shit, live from the pulpit,” snarls Ayewa with a lyrical dexterity and multi-dimensional examination of the modern day that elevates her as one of the true voices to unravel such complexities. Essentially, it’s Moor Mother at the top of her game.
While last year’s abrasive Black Encyclopedia of the Air packed a hefty punch, the spatial and beautifully atmospheric Jazz Codes sees Moor Mother entering the dream state, showcasing an ingenuity like no other. With elements of psychedelia rife throughout, this trip is her most hypnotic yet. It may always be her best.
Jazz Codes is out now via ANTI-. Purchase from Bandcamp.