• Daniel Melfi

Irreversible Entanglements return to Berlin for sold-out show

Updated: Dec 17, 2019

Sometimes, ticket sales just aren't enough.


New York City’s Irreversible Entanglements has a penchant for proving that experimental jazz is far from its casket. The musical activists, who formed in 2015 to protest police brutality, proved that once again on November 2 at Berliner Festspiele’s Jazzfest.


Contrasts permeated their performance. Camae Ayewa (a.k.a. Moor Mother), seemed at times simultaneously relaxed and deeply enraged. At the Haus der Berliner Festspiele in the city’s western sector, Irreversible Entanglements were the first act on a bill also featuring the Art Ensemble of Chicago (AEC) and Jaimie Branch. And while Irreversible Entanglements may have the fewest accolades to their name, musically, they should have been programmed as headliners.

Not unlike their performance at October’s Unsound Festival in Krakow, the quintet was uncannily faster and more intense than the acts that followed them. After an opening of unintelligible noise and what seemed like a general sense of energy generation, the band broke into an improvised jam. It lasted most of the next 40 minutes. That spirit of wild brass, woodwinds and percussion characterizes most of their performances.


What’s more refreshing about Irreversible Entanglements is their authentic identity as a free jazz band. Their album, while lyrically motivating and musically energetic, is rarely revisited in their shows. Unlike Branch, who felt at times a part of a band with a distinct plan, Irreversible Entanglements seemed to have generally no idea where things would go next.

Unfortunately, that sonic instability resulted in a range of reactions. With the early slot on the bill—at 18:30—it seemed impossible to get the relatively elderly crowd into the appropriate mindset.


As Ayewa aggressively questioned the crowd, “Did they teach you to walk around with your finger on the trigger?” she couldn’t help but compulsively rub her face with her palm. It was one in a range of physical gestures. But it was a series of one-way motion. The crowd had no response.

The comfortable seats of Berliner Festspiele’s Wilmersdorf theatre kept the situation restrained. Although acts like Branch’s “Fly or Die” and the conclusion of the AEC elicited a slightly more enthusiastic response, it was obvious that sometimes, even a sold-out show is just not enough.


Photos by Camille Blake