It’s been less than two weeks since the release of Nothing to Declare, Moor Mother’s debut joint LP with DJ Haram as 700 Bliss. But the Philadelphia rapper, poet, and fearless experimentalist also known as Camae Ayewa already has another record waiting in the wings. Jazz Codes, due out July 1, is a collaboration between Ayewa and Swedish producer Olof Melander, whom she contacted in the early days of COVID lockdown, asking if he could send her some loops to accompany a collection of poems she’d written in honor of blues and jazz legends. When he sent her hundreds, the vision of an album swam into focus, and Ayewa enlisted an army of collaborators to help realize it.
Along with news of the forthcoming project, Ayewa has released its lead single, “WOODY SHAW.” The new track centers her animated spoken-word poetry, somehow soothing despite the intense urgency and fearsome clarity of her lyrics. Backed by Melanie Charles, who sings circles around her steady speech, Ayewa free associates on the life of Woody Shaw, an iconic musician, composer, and educator who revolutionized the harmonic language of the trumpet before dying tragically at 44 in the 1980s.
Undergirding their vocals is an instrumental that begins as a mostly synthesized groove from Melander before blasting off into a free-jazz inferno, pivoting between meters and modes with a life of its own. The track’s recurring refrain — “Woody Shaw, elevator out of town / He’s coming, he’s coming up and down” — is stretched in all directions by Mekala and Michael Session’s manic drumming and sax, eerily placed vibraphone tones from Maia, and a relentless walking bass line from veteran improviser Henry Franklin, who played with Shaw in his prime.
“Woody Shaw was an innovator, and sometimes innovators don’t get to just do that [sic] They should,” Franklin explains near the end of the song’s Cyrus Moussavi-directed visual treatment as the track fades out, his heavy bass notes pounding behind his words. “But he’s known by all musicians — all jazz musicians know him and respect him, and they know he was a baaad man.”
Watch the video, view Moor Mother’s upcoming European tour dates, and check out Jazz Codes‘ tracklist and features below.