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Matana Roberts: Gypsy Woman

Saxophonist Matana Roberts preaches the avant-garde gospel far and wide

Matana Roberts

I’m a Gypsy woman by nature,” Matana Roberts says during a walkabout of her Harlem neighborhood. The alto saxophonist and composer has just returned from Europe, where she concluded a brief tour; she will soon be heading out again, this time to the Western U.S. “There are great things going on all over the world in the name of improvisation, and sometimes what happens in New York is that you can get buried in just what’s happening here,” she says. “I want to see what else is out there, what other people are doing.”

Roberts is as restless in art as she is in geography. Born and raised in Chicago, Roberts plays in a way that echoes the avant-garde aesthetic of that city’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), of which she is a member. Specifically, Roberts shares the proclivity of many AACM stalwarts to blend traditional, progressive and free jazz with the blues, European classical music, world folk traditions and performance art-and, in her case, dashes of punk and experimental rock. In her COIN COIN project, a massive, 12-part work in progress, she applies that eclectic style to an epic exploration of ancestry, African-American history, spirituality and memory.

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