19. Moor Mother: Jazz Codes

Ultimately, perhaps it is good that the people abandoned jazz/
Replaced it with musical products better suited to capitalism’s designs

Moor Mother’s Jazz Codes isn’t so much a musical record as an anthropological project. Prolific poet, musician and activist, Camae Ayewa, the artist behind the Moor Mother moniker, is a deep thinker and Jazz Codes lays out precisely what’s currently on her mind.

“You took the blues away/And the band won’t play.”

This is a history lesson; Ayewa’s thesis on the bastardisation of black music. Jazz, blues, hip-hop – all stolen and sanitised for a squeeky-clean, white world. She highlights the pioneers of the black genres, the likes of Mary Lou Williams (on Ode to Mary) and Joe McPhee (on Joe McPhee Nation Time). As she strolls through history, with tears running down her cheeks, she nods to Coltrane and Billie; Dizzy and Nina. 

Reinforcing the academic stature of what’s placed before us is the presence of the eminent Professor Thomas Stanley, who appears on the album’s final track, Thomas Stanley Jazzcodes Outro. Here, in its attempt to dissect precisely what jazz is, the raison d’etre for Jazz Codes is truly laid bare. Or was.

Looking at it purely as a musical record (and we can), it is a sprawling affair; eighteen tracks which flow into one another, sometimes meandering aimlessly without shape, structure or form. Immersing yourself in Jazz Codes is like transplanting yourself into a hallucinogenic dream where everything is woozy and intoxicating. Because of that, Jazz Codes is not an album for singles. It’s not a collection to pick out a single track; that would be like picking a paragraph out of a novel. No, these pieces work most effectively as a suite and strictly in the order that Ayewa has laid them out for us.

Notwithstanding that, there is something engrossing about Jazz Codes; some kind of ingredient that hooks us in and keeps us enrapt. Keeps us coming back for more. Throughout the journey, a host of collaborators drift in and out, all making significant contributions. Moreover, there are some outstanding hip-hop instances with Rap Jasm and Real Trill Hours being the best examples.     

Of all the albums on this year’s Musical Advent, Jazz Codes is unquestionably the heaviest and least accessible (in a different way from Hatis Noit’s Aura, which is equally uncommercial). It is the most solemn, grown-up album on this list. However, it may well be the most important. That, in itself, isn’t enough to justify a placement on an album of the year compilation. But when that status is combined with such musical creativity and quality, it’s impossible to leave it out.  

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