Review Summary: The jazz album of 2011.
"Rise" is a pretty good slab of free jazz, but while listening to it, I had to question what was supposed to make it so special other than the release date. It's always a little downheartening when you see an album become one of the most acclaimed of its year (something that is happening to Coin Coin Chapter One
at an alarming pace) despite sounding thirty years old; good as the album in question may be, it just serves to illustrate that so much of popular music is just running around in circles. Does anything other than the festishisation of jazz among the more self-consciously open-minded rockers make this any different from something like Black Country Communion? The opening sections of this album make you wonder.
And then the vocals come in.
The vocals here are what lends this album a true identity, a sense that it knows what it wants to be rather than who else
it wants to be, and that's a massive distinction. The most obvious example of that is the a capella "Libation for Mr. Brown: Bid Em In...", where Roberts acts as the auctioneer at a slave auction, flipping between espousing the virtues of the women being sold and reducing them to mere flesh and bone, without a personality or soul. It's gripping. Yet, for all the Afrocentricity that runs through the album, and all the examination of the history of racism in America, she uses her voice in impressively diverse ways too. "Pov Piti" has some almost Berberain-esque babbling and glosslalia. "Lulla/Bye" - probably the album's most immediately impressive track - is a mournful, moaning chant that feels like a kind of demonic re-reading of the gospel and spiritual tradition. "I Am" boasts tortured screams that aren't a million miles away from Diamanda Galas, before working its way into more slavery-condemning beat poetry halfway through. "How Much Would You Cost?" even has traces of scat. Ignore the fact that this is jazz for a second - you'd be hard pressed to find a single album in any genre that does as much with a single human voice in 2011.
Returning to the jazz, though - Roberts' vision of jazz is impressive, with some basic orchestral elements introduced subtlely and tastefully. As this came out on Constellation, home of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, there'll be many people making comparisons to the dronier end of post-rock, and they're not entirely misleading. This is how she's pushing jazz forward with her music, not just her words - that first track could easily have been released in the '70s, but the rest is much harder to place in time.
A very, very impressive album all around. I can think of very little that really sounds like this - the great irony of my first impression of the first track is that this album actually sounds like the kind of music people should be making in 2011. Believe the hype.