Moor Mother’s poetry is often apocalyptic but grounded in cynical realism. She merges and marries experimental soundscapes, often through electronic loops, free jazz, and hip-hop-inspired beat and grooves, with spoken word pieces that are striking, dark and reflective, showcasing her versatility not only as a composer and arranger, but as a poet and emcee. Her 2021 album Black Encyclopedia of the Air channelled this dark, unassuming energy in a cacophonous body of work that felt raw and visceral, from start to finish. Studying the relationship between Black art and the spaces they occupy, Moor Mother has, over the years, championed a free-spirited and unapologetic attitude toward artistic creation. Her second album for ANTI- is titled Jazz Codes, and continues to champion, via collaboration, her free-spirited and free-flowing approach to making art. While Black Encyclopedia of the Air felt more skeletal in its sonic arrangements and overall tone, Jazz Codes feels like a warm, welcoming hug. Its contrasting sound makes it a perfect companion piece to her last project.
The album opens with the hypnotic “UMZANI” featuring Black Quantum Futurism and Mary Lattimore. The subtle percussion, synths and strings are potent and gorgeous, as Moor Mother’s abstract lyrics are mesmerising. Tracks like “GOLDEN LADY”, “WOODY SHAW” (both featuring the amazing Melanie Charles), and “ODE TO MARY” featuring Orion Sun & Jason Moran, have a lighter and more soulful tone, with gorgeous vocal performances that add depth to the soothing, intricate instrumentals. She pays tribute to the multitude of Black artists that came before her, and makes space for her contemporaries that have similar struggles occupying the independent art space. Features are plentiful throughout the album, and she’s able to utilise each artist’s voice as a fresh new instrument. justmadnice’s subtle vocals on “SO SWEET AMINA” complement Moor Mother’s melodic tone, while Keir Neuringer’s saxophone leads are incredibly potent. Fatboi Sharif’s background wails on “BLUES AWAY” are incredible and capture the angst and sombreness of the track brilliantly (though I would have loved to hear a verse from the enigmatic emcee). “RAP JASM” featuring AKAI SOLO and justmadnice is another highlight, a proper rap cut, with incredibly reflective verses, with potent imagery and slick wordplay over this silky smooth beat. “ARMS SAVE” featuring Nicole Mitchell is another incredible track, with a dense beat that is accompanied by incredible brass and wind instrumentation that adds to Moor Mother’s dark, uneasy poem about the pain and loneliness she often feels navigating through life. “MEDITATION RAG” featuring Aquiles Navarro and Alya Al Sultani is another mesmeric moment on the album, with swirling saxophone leads, percussion and a subtle beat that create this atmospheric, hypnotic sound that is powerful in the way it’s able to convey pain and sombreness. “EVENING” and “BARELY WOKE” featuring Wolf Weston are two emphatic tracks, the latter of which especially has this dynamic, pummelling groove that again speaks to feeling lost and lonely, not able to navigate through the pressures of capitalism and institutional racism that has plagued the lives of millions in the States and around the world. She gives a platform and voice to Black artists that have felt the same way she has throughout her years of being an artist, and through rich sonic tapestries, she is able to create an eerie, dark and sober tone that reflects her state of mind perfectly.
There is so much to admire abour Moor Mother’s Jazz Codes. It is such a dense, intricate listen that requires full attention, with the rewards of this sonic experience being so enriching. Throughout 18 tracks and 43 minutes of music, the Philadelphia-based multidisciplinary artist has created a warm, free-spirited body of work that tackles themes of institutional racism within the artistic space, colonialism and personal struggle in a futuristic, sci-fi-esque setting that is exceptional in its execution. This is without question one of my favourite albums to come out this year, and Moor Mother’s artistic metamorphosis continues to excite me. Listen to her sublime new album Jazz Codes below via Bandcamp and don’t forget to support!