Review: Morning/mourning by Jessica Ackerley

Guitarist and composer Jessica Ackerley has been a compelling, distinctive, and dedicated contributor to various New York creative music scenes since her arrival in 2013. Employing an inclusive aesthetic and a strong collaborative drive, Ackerley has produced an impressive output of recordings spanning jazz, improvised music, experimental rock, and noise. 

Throughout this wide traversal of styles and configurations runs the central thread of Ackerley’s unique sensibility as an improvising guitarist. Her recent release Morning/mourning is an uninterrupted view of Ackerley’s core creative practice: nine tracks of solo guitar without overdubs or effects. Within this seemingly limited format, Ackerley finds ample room to express her dynamic, affecting compositional and improvisational voice.

Ackerley’s voice bucks recent trends that favor timbral explorations and extended techniques. Instead, her strong sense of melody and harmony is the centerpiece, and the primary arena for her artistic development. Her ability to move smoothly between tonal and atonal landscapes (as on the fifth track “mourning”) is impressive, as is the rich variety that emerges organically from her articulation and other technical decisions. A deep, non-pyrotechnic virtuosity is on display, and is consistently deployed in service of the music’s emotive qualities. The mood is contemplative and melancholy, punctuated by bursts of noisy energy and the occasional brutal vamp crying out for distortion (and maybe a blastbeat). Stripped of such force multipliers, these moments cut rather than bombard the listener, and express the acidic bite of loss. 

The last moments of “Morning,” the final track, encapsulate what I love about this record and Ackerley’s music in general. Low open string drones and alternates with brilliant pings of playing above the nut, which coalesce into a discordantly beautiful choir of bells. A simple and intuitive texture emerges directly from the instrument, imbued with meaning and emotion by Ackerley’s keen sense of space and pacing.

Amid the sea of solo records released in the past year, Morning/mourning stands out with its no-frills presentation and strong emotional impact. While many musicians utilized the time and solitude inflicted by lockdown to craft baroque fortresses of solipsistic sound design, Ackerley has presented a document remarkable in its exposed vulnerability. The music doesn’t rely on this quality as a crutch; the pieces here are dynamic and engaging, clearly the products of deep creativity and craft.

Mat MuntzReview: Morning/mourning by Jessica Ackerley