Irreversible Entanglements & Pat Thomas – ‘5.4.18’ (Album Review)

Irreversible Entanglements burst onto the avant-garde jazz scene with a fascinating debut that was as abrasive as it was captivating. The roar of Camae Ayewa’s (a.k.a. Moor Mother) socio-political poetry was well met by a driving rhythm section (Luke Stewart on bass, Tcheser Holmes on drums) and furious horns (Aquiles Navarro on trumpet, Keir Neuringer on alto saxophone). While the group’s first project didn’t exactly propel them into avant-jazz stardom, it was extremely well received and led to them being booked in the USA and abroad. 5.4.18 is a recording of Irreversible Entanglements’ first show in London, and throughout its 83 minutes, there’s no doubt that this band is something special.

The recording features the original band personnel, until British pianist Pat Thomas sits in for the last 29 minutes of the session. Thomas galvanizes the band – he enters with a hectic chaos that would make Cecil Taylor proud. His dissonant soloing and rhythmic comping fits in with Irreversible Entanglements’ aesthetic perfectly. The group settles into an addicting driving groove, anchored by a bass which at times sounds like it could fit into an afro-beat setting. Ayewa is as fiery as ever, painting unsettling pictures of the lives of those in power:

And when you think about it, the nice white people in the mansion up on the hill, they own the sky! You know your daddy and them! Daddy can I watch them die on easter? Daddy can I cut the ribbon? Daddy can I go to the demolition?

Ayewa points out the sinister nature of America with such vigor that there can be no doubt that she feels her words to their core. Although the poet’s visceral approach may not be for everyone, her intense delivery and subject matter – rampant capitalism, racism and imperialism – is perfect for Irreversible Entanglements’ frantic free-jazz environment.

Although the addition of Thomas is definitely a standout moment, 5.4.18 is just as compelling during the rest of its runtime. Stewart begins the show with an unnerving bass arco before Holmes takes his drumming up to thunderous levels as Neuringer’s alto sax attacks with ferociously sharp notes. While both horns have aggressive moments throughout the performance, in the opening minutes Navarro’s notably smoother and more restrained approach to playing the trumpet provides a great juxtaposition to the wail of the alto sax.

This live set is mostly composed of previously unrecorded tunes, but fans will instantly recognize the catchy bass line of “Fireworks” that starts about 15 minutes in. Even though the original recording of “Fireworks” was exceptional, the band still manages to find a second gear here and completely outdoes itself. Ayewa’s passion is electrifying and the rhythm section is much more animated with new upbeat bass-lines and a standout performance from Holmes on drums. 5.4.18 is a stunning recording – undeniable proof that jazz fans should not think twice about buying a ticket if Irreversible Entanglements are in town.

5.4.18, the latest record by Irreversible Entanglements & Pat Thomas, is out now on Cafe OTO.