Moor Mother: Jazz Codes review – a stunning continuum of Black music

What started life as a poetry book has evolved into an ambitious anthropological project spanning jazz, R&B, hip-hop and more

As a poet, composer, educator, audiovisual artist, activist and playwright, Moor Mother’s Camae Ayewa connects with people in any environment – be it her native Philly DIY scene, teaching in LA or her residency at Cern. She dubs her approach “Black quantum futurism”, exploring sound’s potential to evoke memories as a vehicle for navigating time. Thus her music sustains a constant, complementary tension between the hushed, folkloric mantras and defiant Afrofuturist litanies she shares, her sound drawing freely from noise, jazz, blues and beats while respecting the practice of each mode. Her latest album is an ambitious anthropological undertaking, looking to map out a history of Black classical – music of the jazz continuum – that stretches into the future as well as the past.

Moor Mother: Jazz Codes album artwork.
Moor Mother: Jazz Codes album artwork. Photograph: Publicity image

Jazz Codes began as a poetry book with accompanying instrumentals from producer Olof Melander, though Ayewa soon found herself playing bandleader to an ensemble of virtual collaborators during lockdown. Her spoken words, songs and sighs give shape to this tempest of jazz, hip-hop and R&B, whirling together a who’s-who of Black classical: Ayewa dextrously chains mentions of Billie Holiday, Albert Ayler, Nina Simone and Rahsaan Roland Kirk on rap manifesto Evening. Ode to Mary embodies its tribute to Mary Lou Williams beyond title and lyrics, as Jason Moran’s cameo on the keys channels the effortless elasticity of her piano playing.

More than a dozen guests seamlessly breeze in and out of the record, representing the contemporary and communal aspects of this lineage. Prof Thomas Stanley closes the album, declaring jazz as living music; this elemental force, born from oral traditions, couldn’t exist solely on record. But whatever its form, Ayewa lives and breathes it.


Tayyab Amin

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Black Midi: Cavalcade review – freakish parade of prog-jazz extremity
There’s a impressive maelstrom of moods on the Mercury nominees’ new album, building to a fantastical, absurdist whole

Tayyab Amin

28, May, 2021 @8:00 AM

Article image
Mali Obomsawin: Sweet Tooth review | Jude Rogers's folk album of the month
In their freewheeling debut album, this artist from the Abenaki First Nation repatriates the music of their people

Jude Rogers

18, Nov, 2022 @9:00 AM

Article image
Jazz, Old Norse and ‘troll tunes’: the strange, stunning music of Shetland
It’s 550 years since the islands became part of Scotland, and the archipelago is still not for the faint-hearted. But it has inspired its own diverse music, where fiddles and accordions meet the sub-bass of the sea

Jude Rogers

20, Jan, 2022 @3:00 PM

Article image
Tunisian techno, Xitsongan rap and Satanic doo-wop: the best new music of 2019
From cheeky rappers to explosive hardcore punks, we introduce 50 artists sure to make an impact in the coming year

Ben Beaumont-Thomas, Laura Snapes and Ammar Kalia

28, Dec, 2018 @10:00 AM

Article image
Modern Nature: Island of Noise review – mesmerising musical riff on Shakespeare
Jack Cooper swerves the cliches with this transporting, melodic album, adding free jazz to a treasure trove of ideas

Rachel Aroesti

03, Dec, 2021 @9:00 AM

Article image
Mabe Fratti: Se Ve Desde Aquí review | Ammar Kalia's global album of the month
The Guatemalan musician layers soft vocals and jarring textures to create a direct and forceful new tone

Ammar Kalia

09, Sep, 2022 @8:00 AM

Article image
Tumi Mogorosi: Group Theory: Black Music review | Ammar Kalia's global album of the month
The South African drummer and friends pair the self-obliterating spirit of Coltrane, Ayler and poet Amiri Baraka with a nine-piece choir to create a layered and compelling work

Ammar Kalia

17, Jun, 2022 @8:00 AM

Article image
Danger Mouse & Black Thought: Cheat Codes review – brimming with sheer love of the craft
Contemplating everything from hip-hop to the human condition, the ebullient and long-awaited collaboration is awash with cinematic beats and vivid rhymes

Tayyab Amin

12, Aug, 2022 @7:30 AM

Article image
Moor Mother: Analog Fluids of Sonic Black Holes review – raging protest poetry
The activist and musician overlays stunning sound collages with furious verses laying bare the lie of post-racial America

Ben Beaumont-Thomas

08, Nov, 2019 @10:30 AM

Article image
Avishai Cohen: Naked Truth review | John Fordham's jazz album of the month
An evocative mini album performed by band members who never lose their individuality is beautifully executed

John Fordham

18, Feb, 2022 @9:00 AM