REVIEW: Irreversible Entanglements and Pat Thomas at Cafe Oto

Pat Thomas at Cafe Oto
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2018. All Rights Reserved

Irreversible Entanglements and Pat Thomas
(Cafe Oto, 5 April 2018. Review and drawings by Geoff Winston)


Irreversible Entanglements, making their UK debut at Cafe Oto, delivered an unremittingly powerful combination of jazz and radical poetry, and with pianist Pat Thomas kicking off the evening, it doesn't get much more intense!

Thomas's solo performance set the benchmark. He poured himself in to the piano with richly inventive improvisation where bell-like sounds were countered with dense, dark chords and supercharged Nancarrow complexity, his large hands scampering over the keyboards like running crustaceans.

Irreversible Entanglements is the quintet brought together in 2015 by Camae Ayewa (aka Moor Mother), the Philadelphia-based radical poet, musician, activist and educator with saxophonist, Kier Neuringer, also Philly-based after spells in Cracow and The Hague, and bass player, Luke Stewart from DC, adding the New York-based duo of drummer Tcheser Holmes and Panamanian trumpeter, Aquiles Navarro. They first played together at a Musicians Against Police Brutality event.

Their eponymous first album sings out with energy, drive and passion (nominated as my recorded highlight of 2017, along with Moor Mother's The Motionless Present) and the flame of their burning vision gained even more power in the flesh. It's a relentless, tense fire, and it's primarily, and surprisingly, acoustic.

Onstage, the immediate, unexpected impression is of being transported in to the cauldron of the '60s in the presence of a radical, expressive jazz and poetry collective. These are musicians of quality and so focussed. Stewart, with his quietly haunted look, bears an uncanny resemblance to the young bass player of the day, Henry Grimes and Neuringer blows with the unquenchable dynamism of Albert Ayler or Peter Brötzmann. Navarro has something of the look of Clifford Jordan, while the undiluted concentration of Holmes and Ayewa brings to mind Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln. The heritage is there at ground level but Irreversible Entanglements have their feet firmly embedded in century twenty-one, although it's only Ayewa who messes with today's technology with a shot of self-sampling.

There's the hint of confrontation in the ensemble's power surges and dips. Stewart's grinding bass and soft, spikey phrasing again recalls Grimes. Neuringer's stream-of-consciousness flow momentarily hit a North African groove contrasting with Navarro's forceful restraint while Holmes, tough and tight, went for it.

Irreversible Entanglements at Cafe Oto: Aquiles Navarro and Luke Stewart
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2018. All Rights Reserved

Enter Camae Ayewa. Grounded in the Black American experience, with horrors descending from outside and from within, hers is a cry for humanity. There's hope deep down there, but she pulls no punches. It's visceral. Live, with the ensemble, she puts flesh on the poetry from her book, Fetish Bones. Blended in to the densely wrought musical textures her words emerge, stalking the listener then pouncing in sound bites. Fireworks is extended, becomes a full musical movement. 'I'm interested in what makes you give a shit.' Repeated, it becomes a mantra. Navarro presses his trumpet tight to his mike. Blasts. 'you see the fireworks last night?' … 'we are post world war 3' … 'one thing for sure is people are dying'.

This is angry, harrowing, revealing – and, indirectly, celebrating the positive power of the possible. Shrieking sax. From Ayewa's Out of Order Punk, 'They are actively erasing your memory' … '… at the dinner table of our own genocide' … 'right now right now right now'. Ayewa shakes her head, dreadlocks flailing. Echoes of Archie Shepp's Scag ('There's the stinge of rotting blood on dry Philadelphia clay… dope is death'). From 3D Bones, Ayewa yells in to the bell of Neuringer's sax, 'no longer human no longer human'. Quoting Amiri Baraka's Dope, Ayewa declaims, 'must be the devil…'.

Ayewa asks the questions. 'Did you vote for corruption?' 'They control the music. Who are you so-called artists?' All the while the quartet drive on with Ayewa, relentlessly, never taking the foot off the accelerator. Committed, top-drawer, they don't let the house relax. It's absolutely riveting. Joined by Thomas towards the end of the set, his experience and dynamism bring a special touch to their finale.

Irreversible Entanglements
Camae Ayewa aka Moor Mother: vocals
Kier Neuringer: alto saxophone
Luke Stewart: double bass
Aquiles Navarro: trumpet
Tcheser Holmes: drums

Pat Thomas: piano

LINKS: Review of Moor Mother and Pat Thomas / Orphy Robinson
Review of Moor Mother with Elaine Mitchener

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