Much to enjoy in this solo album by guitarist Jessica Ackerley, a Canadian-American performer and composer who lives in New York; we never heard her music before, but she sometimes plays in the group Essi and made a cassette for Notice Recordings with sax player Patrick Shiroishi. On Morning / Mourning (CACOPHONOUS REVIVAL RECORDINGS CRR-009), she’s aiming at something very intimate, to do with the deaths of close personal friends, but also linked to a process of self-examination, and how she can forge her own voice as a musician in a world where the dominant force in “jazz guitar” is still, apparently, very masculinist.
Actually, listening to this strong and distinctive music, “jazz” was not the first genre that came to mind, but now that I lean into it a bit more you can sense some radically-reappraised jazz forms, particularly unusual chord shapes, underpinning certain moments. However, she prudently refuses any of that glib ultra-fast soloing technique that seems to have plagued us ever since Al Di Meola inspired a thousand copyists with his smooth fusion style. Instead, Jessica Ackerley works through her own blend of composed/improvised in performance and spends time developing her unique strengths, such as in the picking and fingering, and the creation of very unusual, hard-to-follow melodies. I enjoy her spare and unsentimental style, and I have a feeling that once I get used to these weird intervals and dynamics, this will be an album to cherish.
I also happen to love the sound of the solo guitar, and Jessica Ackerley has managed something quite unusual in this instance, with her recording set-up that applied a condenser microphone to capture the acoustic half of her hollow-body instrument, while direct recording was applied to the guitar pickups. She did this just to avoid bothering the neighbours while she recorded at home, but the gambit paid off; it delivers just the right degree of intimacy and warmth for this very heartfelt and sensitive music. The cover art paintings (also by Ackerley) may seem a bit blunt, but they tie in to the themes of the record and make the entire package the personal statement she wants it to be. We need more women guitarists in this field; the press notes remind us about the great Ashley Paul, but this also reminds me I’d love to hear more from Ava Mendoza too. Very good. From 15th April 2021.