Matana Roberts is a saxophonist, writer, composer, bandleader, and mixed-sound artist who lives in New York City. She is best known as the creator of the multi-volume conceptual work Coin Coin.
Roberts was born and raised on the south side of Chicago to parents who had come through the radical changes brought on by the civil rights, political, and anti-war struggles of the 1960s. They exposed her, from a very young age, to arts, culture, and politics, from the established to the radical. Roberts began her musical training at the age of seven in the city's public school system. She studied clarinet, violin, and bassoon. At the age of 16, under the tutelage of bassist Reginald Willis, she began to study the saxophone and improvisation. It was an immersive experience that changed the course of her life. She was a full participant in Chicago's myriad music and art scenes. As a musician, she played with experimental rock, Latin R&B, and jazz acts. She was also an avid writer who began self-publishing 'zines and tracts, and participated in the theater community by composing and performing music. Another early influence was saxophonist, composer, and owner of the famed Velvet Lounge, Fred Anderson.
From 2000-2009 she was an associate member of Chicago's famed Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), though she joined after leaving Chicago for New York. There she met other ex-pat Chicagoans (and AACM members), including Muhal Richard Abrams, Amina Claudine Myers, Roscoe Mitchell, Anthony Braxton, and Nicole Mitchell.
Along with drummer Chad Taylor and bassist Josh Abrams, she formed the trio Sticks & Stones. Their self-released debut was issued in 2002, followed by Shed Grace for Thrill Jockey in 2004. She began gigging, working with other players, and establishing herself as a session and live player. In 2005, she began to work on composing and workshopping the Coin Coin cycle. She also worked with the Burnt Sugar collective, as well as William Parker and rock groups including Godspeed! You Black Emperor and TV on the Radio. In 2006, she self-released her first date as a leader, Lines for Lacy, followed by The Calling in 2007.
In 2008, Roberts saw the issuance of her quartet offering, The Chicago Project, on Barry Adamson's Central Control label. The set was produced by Vijay Iyer. This was followed by international touring and other collaborations, including her appearance on Thee Silver Mount Zion Memorial Orchestra's Kollaps Tradixionales. After witnessing a performance of Coin Coin Chapter One with her Montreal ensemble, that city's Constellation label approached her about making a record. She proposed her multi-volume Coin Coin project; they agreed without reservation. In February of 2011, her Live in London offering was released by Adamson's label, followed by Coin Coin Chapter One: Gens de Couleur Libre in May. The album was universally acclaimed. Following more touring and collaborative work, she released Coin Coin Chapter Two: Mississippi Moonchile, in October of 2013, the second volume in the 12-part series. The album was selected by numerous media outlets in their year-end album lists.
Roberts spent much of 2014 writing and performing, including a celebrated duet performance with drummer Susie Ibarra at the Stone and as a participant in the 50th anniversary celebration for Terry Riley's In C. Coin Coin Chapter Three: River Run Thee was released by Constellation in February of 2015. In May of the following year, she received a Doris Duke Artist Award. ~ Thom Jurek