Moor Mother

(Copyright © 2020 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of Use )
Fetish Bones (2016), 7/10
The Motionless Present (2017), 5/10
Analog Fluids of Sonic Black Holes (2019), 6/10
Circuit City (2020), 6.5/10
Brass (2020), 6/10
Black Encyclopedia of the Air (2021) , 5/10
Jazz Codes (2022), 5/10
700 Bliss: Nothing To Declare (2022), 6.5/10

Moor Mother, the project of Philadelphia's black poet and singer-songwriter Camae Ayewa, who is a purveyor of "Afrofuturism" with her co-conspirator Rasheedah Phillips of the Community Futures Lab, debuted with Fetish Bones (2016) as a sort of Patti Smith of glitch electronica. Songs like Creation Myth and Cabrini Green x Natasha Mkenna are jarring collages of free-jazz percussion, samples, electronic distortion and militant poetry. The album's emotional power peaks in the pounding rage of Deadbeat Protest and the ear-splitting grating and chirping sounds of KBGK. There are brief incursions in tribal blues (Chain Gang Quantum Blues), dance music (Tell Me About It), industrial music (Washington Park) and so on, all derailed by chaotic electronic arrangements.

Moor Mother is also a member of the spoken-word group Irreversible Entanglements (2017).

The Motionless Present (2017) collects poems and music.

Analog Fluids of Sonic Black Holes (2019) continues the irrational project of Fetish Bones (2016), but it is mostly devoted to one-minute electronic gags like Engineered Uncertainty, Master's Clock, Sonic Black Holes. Longer pieces like Shadowgrams and Passing of Time fail to find an exciting soundscape for the lyrics. After Images, a collaboration with Justin Broadrick of Godflesh, and Black Flight intone variations on the tribal dance. Only one piece is truly genius: a simple relentless beat and sardonic vocals create the terror atmosphere of Don't Die.

Circuit City (Don Giovanni, 2020) documents her first theatrical work, Accompanied by vocalist Elon Battle, electronic musician Steve Montenegro, trumpeter Aquiles, bassist Luke Stewart, saxophonist Keir Neuringer and percussionist Tcheser Holmes, Ayewa blurts out her lines over feverish instrumental improvisation. The music of the eleven-minute Act 1 - Working Machine echoes the psychedelic free-jazz of Robert Wyatt coupled with the bubbling and distorted electronica of Morton Subotnick in a crescendo of chaotic chatter. Act 2 - Circuit Break is more abstract and neurotic, with frantic drumming puncturing the saxophone's intoxicated maze of reverbs. As the saxophone launches in desperate glissandoes, one wishes that an apt vocalist would engage in a duet. Elon Battle's vocals lead in fact Act 3 - Time Of No Time, drenched in an oneiric atmosphere of liquefying keyboard tones and tapping drumsticks The music cacophonically implodes at the beginning of the 13-minute Act 4 - No More Wires and then becomes an exhausting bacchanal before relaxing in a turbulent anticlimactic coda. The drawback for Ayewa is, of course, that the music steals the show, and her declamations don't add but detract from what would be top-notch jazz improvisation.

Moor Mother collaborated with rapper Billy Woods of Armand Hammer on Brass (2020) with help from several friends, an album of 15 brief duets. And while the soundscapes of Furies and Gang for a Day are haunting, examples of dark ambient, they are not fully developed. Maroons returns to the psychedelic free-jazz feeling of Circuit City with the addition of an echo of African swamps, and Chimney wraps the story in industrial distortion, romantic piano and ghostly electronica. The voices create a sense of tension and disorientation in Arkeology and a sense of macabre and funereal in the standout Scary Hours (with John Forte). Guest vocalists craft the lightweight neosoul of The Blues Remembers Everything.

The musical scaffolding of Black Encyclopedia of the Air (Anti, 2021) is more trivial, occasionally bordering on disposable background muzak. There are a few eccentric songs, notably Shekere, and a great speciman of space pop-jazz-soul, Tarot, but mostly this collection is somnolent and bland.

Jazz Codes (2022) is not a jazz tribute but another cauldron of jazz, blues, soul, hip-hop, electronics and poetry, but it is a concept about the historical influence of jazz on African-American culture. The album is as fragmented as usual, and the songs cover a broad range in terms of quality, from insignificant to intellectually entertaining (Meditation Rag, Rap Jasm, Umzansi).

700 Bliss, a collaboration with fellow female Philadelphia dj Zubeyda "DJ Haram" Muzeyyen, debuted with the five-song EP Spa 700 (2018) that contains the absurdist pseudo-rap theater of Basic, the cubistic polyrhythm of Cosmic Shop and the angry-solemn agit-prop rant Scully. each arranged with synth and chamber instruments, each derailed (rather than enhanced) by childish lo-fi beats. Four years later 700 Bliss released the album Nothing To Declare (2022), a set of brief avant-rap vignettes. Occasionally they flirt with more conventional rap (Nothing To Declare and Candace Parker) but in general they remain stubbornly leftfield. The watery agony Totally Spies, the dislocated African chant and dance Nightflame, the stoned recitation over pulsating Caribbean techno Anthology, the bombastic electronics of More Victories, the chaotic chatter and glitchy background of Seven, and so on paint the fresco of a collective psychological disaster. The album is however too long, with too much filler; and too many songs feel unfinished.

(Copyright © 2020 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )