Album Review: Irreversible Entanglements, Who Sent You?

who sent you

Vigorous music undulates as poet Camae Aweya, also known as Moor Mother, declares “stay on it” with the power of a magnitude nine earthquake. “The Code Noir / Amina” is a formidable opening for five-member jazz ensemble Irreversible Entanglement’s defiant second album, Who Sent You? The group, formed in 2015 at a Musicians Against Police Brutality event, layers striking poetry over unrestrained jazz, creating music with unstoppable action. With Who Sent You?, they paint a picture made of times past and times yet to come, uniting fragmented phrases to form an ideology for the future.

Aweya’s poetry tilts from statements to questions as “The Code Noir / Amina” continues. She implores, “at what point do we stand up?” as a trumpet improvises a frenetic melody in the background. “At the breaking point? At the point of no return?” Her words intertwine with the music’s frenzy; trumpet and saxophone mimic her searing inquiries as they flutter with intensity. Aweya often works with wild electronic backgrounds as Moor Mother, but with Irreversible Entanglements, her blistering words are paired with vivid acoustic improvisation. The ensemble comprises saxophonist Keir Neuringer, trumpeter Aquiles Navarro, bassist Luke Stewart, and drummer Tcheser Holmes. Their sound, paired with Aweya’s voice, is natural: words and music intermingle into one entity, propelling us forward with unwavering motion.

The centerpiece of the record is Aweya’s biting poetry. The ensemble matches her intensity, creating rhythmic patterns that prompt an anxious energy and solos that howl with insistence. It’s as if her words are drunk by the musicians, and spit back through the bells of their horns. It’s that tight sound that makes the music so convincing. “Blues ideology,” for example, unites an anxious drumbeat with freeform solos as Aweya tells an allegorical story of a pope drinking with the devil. It’s a hodgepodge of sounds that eventually spiral into decomposed trills, but the stellar communication between ensemble members makes the disparate melodies feel cohesive. 

With the album’s eponymous track, “Who Sent You — Ritual,” a forte trumpet blares an agitated horn call as a saxophone plays frenetic trills and drums beat a relentless, off-kilter pattern. Aweya asks, “who sent you?” with acidity; each repetition of the question is more urgent than the last. Instruments screech with extended techniques, bellowing in the tradition of Ornette Coleman. The prevalent ideologies of the ‘60s are inseparable from the memory of free jazz, and Irreversible Entanglements lean into the strands that fit their modern narrative, from virtuosic instrumentals to revolutionary thinking. Influences from free jazz pioneers can be heard all over the record, but perhaps what’s most notable is the ensemble’s ability to carry tradition while launching us ever-more forward.

Their sound is timeless, born out of generations of revolutions, born into generations of revolution to come. Who Sent You? sees the ensemble at their most united — an unbreakable force calling for justice, resisting a world that refuses to acknowledge its wrongdoings. Their music reminds us that we’re grounded in the current moment, but building for another.

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