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Moor Mother: Jazz Codes (Anti-)

A review of the artist's second album for the Anti- label

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Moor Mother: Jazz Codes (Anti-)
The cover of Jazz Codes by Moor Mother

Remember those images of stellar nurseries from the James Webb telescope that enchanted the internet last July? They’re what Moor Mother’s new album, Jazz Codes, sounds like. For multihyphenate artist Camae Ayewa’s second album for the Anti- label, she conjures a phantasmagorical index of references from jazz’s past, present, and future.

Like the chorus of liminal voices in George Saunders’ novel Lincoln in the Bardo, Jazz Codes’ words, stories, and figures swirl around the soundfield like fish in a murky tank, drifting into clarity, then obscured again just as quickly. It’s an entire genre in antimatter, from a semblance of ice melting in a glass (“Umsanzi”) to a long-gone trumpet hero (“Woody Shaw”). “Let us/ Breathe in Mother Mary Lou/ Father Ra/ Sister Billie/ Brother Shaw/ A Family of Blues too long to list,” read Moor Mother’s liner notes. “A Jazz funeral turned revival/ Twistaway from America’s strange fruits/ Into scats of Jazz code.”

Crucially, Jazz Codes doesn’t simply survey the dust of the 20th century; it points to the ongoing potential of the form. This is reflected in Ayewa’s expertly curated list of cutting-edge guests—like saxophonist Keir Neuringer (“Joe McPhee Nation Time Intro”), R&B multi-instrumentalist Orion Sun and pianist Jason Moran (“Ode to Mary”), and flutist Nicole Mitchell (“Arms Save”).

Still, there are so many other places to hear all these players; with time, might Jazz Codes get lost in the sauce? Based on the quality of the music and expedient running time, it shouldn’t. At 18 tracks in 43 minutes with no serious missteps, Jazz Codes rewards repeated listening.

Learn more about Jazz Codes on Amazon and Apple Music.