Irreversible Entanglements Burned Away the Apathy at Sled Island

Central United Church, June 20

Photo: Em Medland-Marchen

BY Em Medland-MarchenPublished Jun 24, 2024

Beginning their set abruptly with a sound that severed the bone marrow of Central United Church, Irreversible Entanglements made their Sled Island debut on Thursday. It was an uncanny and aptly fitting venue for the Brooklyn quintet, who encouraged their enraptured audience to both question and confront the reality of the performance taking place in the hallmark of the nation's colonial past, present and future.

Bathed in the dim light of late afternoon, poet and vocalist Camae Ayewa (a.k.a Moor Mother) wielded power, supported by Tcheser Holmes on drums, Aquiles Navarro on horns, Keir Neuringer on sax and Luke Stewart on bass. To an intimate audience of Calgary jazz cats and other experimental enthusiasts, Irreversible Entanglements rallied against injustice in its shifting and nefarious forms.

A conversation was struck between instruments as Ayewa interjected with sonic compositions, crafted by lines of spoken word poetry and other accompaniment, including hand percussion, a gong and a wood slide whistle. Instruments of choice moved as freely as the music itself, with Navarro swapping a conch shell for his signature trumpet and a synthesiser later in the set. Through the interstice, Holmes' drums and Stewart's bass beat on, bringing a foundation of urgency to Ayewa's words that demanded liberation and postcolonial freedom.

"How many more years in this waste?" she asked. "Is this the end of history? Is this death becoming? Won't be long now."

As the cacophony increased, tension in the room grew thick. The church was hot from the flames of interlacing and variable musical phrases that transformed it from a sanctuary to a structure of crumbling ash. In the audience, hands gripped arms protectively and heads bobbed. Ayewa's gentle cooing became a command, then a call for action as she spoke from a place of defiant truth and power. Fingernails drew pink carvings into skin.

"How many more mothers?" she asked. "How many more buildings? How many more guns? How many more hospitals, universities? How many more lives?" Her words echoed throughout the church as Holmes tapped the cymbals and Navarro improvised bars on trumpet.

"We've had enough," she said, manifesting imagined futures free from war, conflict and strife. "We say no more loss. We've had enough." Her voice hitched as her cadence took on a quality reminiscent of Rage Against the Machine's Zack de la Rocha.

In the haze, Calgary's Central United Church was transformed, if only for a moment, into the packed seats and sweltering heat of New York's Blue Note jazz club. Camae Ayewa's words drew connective tissue between oppression in America and its neighbour to the north in so-called Canada. That land she called to attention after nearly an hour of unceasing free jazz, driven by the direction of Holmes' variable drums, Navarro's experimental horns, Neuringer's phrase-like sax and Stewart's earthy double bass.

"This has been our first time in Calgary," she said to whistles and applause. "Not sure what y'all do up here." She smiled, a little subdued. "That river's beautiful. But you didn't do that. You didn't, huh, do that. No." There was a bloated pause, filled with textures of synth, drums and saxophone. Then she continued, bringing a breath-like conclusion to the performance's musical nuances.

"Nature is the true inspiration."

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