Irreversible Entanglements is a group whose message and mission has taken on an even more urgent meaning in the late Spring of 2020. Formed in 2015, the members met one another at or were involved in the Musicians Against Police Brutality event organized after the slaying of Akai Gurley by a New York police officer. The group consists of Camae Ayewa (Moor Mother) on vocals, Keir Neuringer on sax, Aquiles Navarro on trumpet, Luke Stewart on bass, and Tcheser Holmes on drums. Two studio albums followed, one in 2017, the other earlier this year. In Fall 2018, Irreversible Entanglements toured Europe and these two recordings resulted.
Live, the band combines the headiness of a Sun Ra jam session with the stark intensity of protest music. Stewart and Holmes set forth an exploratory rhythm section, with Stewart in particular often using his bass as a lead instrument. Neuringer and Navarro provide dueling, spiky themes, discordant drones, and intertwined motifs. This is prime free jazz and would be remarkable on its own. But what pushes these recordings over the top is the spoken-word poetry from Ayewa. A combination of stream-of-consciousness and storytelling, she speaks of racial injustice, suffering, and freedom. Her words have power, and she emotes her pain and channels that of others.
The Berlin set is about 40 minutes long, while the tracks from Italy total over twice that. Both albums are segmented into 10-15 minute pieces that run together. Thematically, Ayewa’s lyrics run together as well. She covers topics both historically and geographically diverse, drawing a line from the human-on-human atrocities of the past to those still taking place today. She ascribes an intentionality to these events, how they have been erased from the history books, and how they must live on in oral memory.
These sets are not always an easy listen, but listen we must. Highly recommended.