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Fred Moten / Brandon López / Gerald Cleaver
Moten​/​López​/​Cleaver Daryl Worthington , April 19th, 2022 07:57

From New York's Reading Group, a thrilling improvisation between Brandon López (double bass), and Gerald Cleaver (drums) with the voice of poet and cultural theorist Fred Moten, recorded in the immediate aftermath of the death of George Floyd

“You don’t get to not see motherfucker, but what happens when you act like you do? Somebody black and poor can’t breathe… And you get to act like you’re alive in a brutal gallery,” says poet and cultural theorist Fred Moten on ‘the faerie ornithologie’. The words signal a fierce, sawing march from Brandon López’s double bass, an eruption of frantic rummaging in Gerald Cleaver’s percussion. It’s a violent shudder in an album which balances confrontation with razor-sharp investigation. Moten has previously described his work as exploring the miracle of how Black people survive brutal repression, and the tracks here tie that historic struggle to the contemporary moment.

The trio recorded this self-titled debut at Manhattan’s GSI studios, the improvisations coming at the height of the pandemic, in the immediate wake of the George Floyd rebellion. Their response is both urgent and considered. Catalysed by the moment, they capture its specific energy, trapping its passing in order to situate and interrogate its origins.

López and Cleaver’s playing seldom erupts into pure fire, their interactions with each other and Moten’s words slow things down rather than speed them up. The drums work in oscillations of texture and force rather than groove, while the double bass contrasts pendulum-like pulses with bursts of nervous action. It’s a pensive mode which gels effortlessly with Moten. The three players triggering deceleration to expose the flux and density embedded in the immediate moment of its creation.

Ideas are captured in flight, or perhaps it’s poetry in motion. Moten bends syntax to find new meaning. “Let’s work against royalty like a prince formerly known as the artist,” he says on ‘the abolition of art, the abolition of freedom, the abolition of you and me’. The line opens paths of enquiry rather than dictate them. His words throw reality into the air, López and Cleaver’s music hold it there, to be examined, absorbed, processed. Not to be comprehensively decoded, but for its shifting origins and consequence to be considered.

In an interview at the end of Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study, his essay collection written in collaboration with Stefano Harvey, Moten says: “It’s not a dead thing. What you listen to or what you’re reading is still moving and still living. It’s still forming.” That feeling of emergence, of open-endedness, flows through the album.

Moten/López/Cleaver’s collaboration feels a fundamentally social creation. Not just in the improvisation between the trio, but also with the listener. Moten’s words, the musical interactions, and the listener’s interpretation feed into each other. It finds simplicity in the complex, and brutal complexity embedded in the everyday. Triggering a shared processing of an uncomfortable reality, of the ongoing present, and all our places within it.