Irreversible Entanglements is a band. A recently deleted tweet from the group’s vocalist/poet Camae Ayewa, a.k.a. Moor Mother, reminded us of as much, but beyond the surface-level fact check, it’s essential to understanding what they do, their sound defined by an interpersonal chemistry that’s both psychic and deeply physical. The clattering drums from Tcheser Holmes and deep bass groove of Luke Stewart are hypnotic and locked-in on the title track of new album Open the Gates, an intricate and rock-solid foundation upon which saxophonist Keir Neuringer and trumpeter Aquiles Navarro can create their swirl of joyously colorful sound, with an invigorating prompt from Moor Mother: “It’s energy time!”
Open the Gates, as a title, feels like a call to action—an echo of Moor Mother’s rhetorical command on 2020’s Who Sent You?, “at what point do we give a shit, do we stand up and say something?” The cosmic and the concrete intersect in Irreversible Entanglements songs, examinations of the here and now as well as long histories of colonialist-induced trauma and ancestral remembrance through both pointed verse and more meditative reflections. Yet Open the Gates also could easily be interpreted as an indication of the band’s own artistic expansion, pushing even farther into more exploratory spaces as they deliver what’s at once their most ambitious and longest set of music, its 73 minutes revealing both the full capabilities of where their sound can do and what they can accomplish as simply incredible musicians in their own right.
The title track itself feels like an entirely new expression of what Irreversible Entanglements does so well, unusually concise at under three minutes long and deeply melodic, the rare moment where you can call one of their songs a “single” without any cognitive dissonance. But beyond that introductory fanfare, their tracks stretch out—four of them beyond 10 minutes—and find space to get comfortable, get weird, and transcend. “Keys to Creation” is one of those transcendent moments, an atmospheric and synth-driven dirge-groove that sounds like the future and feels supernatural, if in large part because of Ayewa’s visions of the metaphysical: “I know it’s possible because I SEEN it!” “Lágrimas Del Mar” is constructed of pure, kinetic energy, the musicians’ performances ricocheting off of each other like charged particles, with Ayewa guiding the narrative toward a long-fought moment of triumph after centuries of struggle: “I’m so close to the good news, to the silver and gold, to the daily bread.” And from a looser assemblage of musical directions forms “The Port Remembers,” a slow-burn funk painted with a stream-of-consciousness history lesson (“A dream, I remember a nightmare… ritual fire, Congo caves, limestone kingdoms… fractured reptilian hearts“).
The centerpiece of Open the Gates is “Water Meditation,” a 20-minute track that comprises a full side of vinyl, and which feels like an album’s worth of ideas in that span. True to its title, there’s a sense of calm to it beneath Moor Mother’s repeated incantations of “water me,” Navarro offering a kind of wandering spiritual guidance via his trumpet. It’s at once impassioned and calm, not unlike some of Don Cherry’s more hypnotic moments, and it finds the band exploring as many avenues and channels as space will allow, from a kind of bass-and-synth-driven sci-fi groove to an uproarious escalation into spiritual jazz fire and ultimately a melancholy comedown. It’s a microcosm of Irreversible Entanglements’ musical universe, just made a little more macro.
While Open the Gates is in some ways less immediate than its predecessor, both in terms of its compositions and in how Ayewa takes a bit more of a step back to view a bigger-picture expanse, the compromise is a work that both redefines and reestablishes Irreversible Entanglements as an unstoppable unit. The rhythms are more intense, the melodies more intricate, the mythologies with more threads to follow and unravel. Irreversible Entanglements do a lot and can be described in any number of ways, but more than anything Open the Gates reinforces just how incredible they are as a group of musicians, creating something that only they can.
Label: International Anthem/Don Giovanni
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.