Versatility is a valuable trait for composers in any genre. Genre or stylistic synthesis won’t always pan out, but when executed successfully, the results can be incredible. This process isn’t always blatant; there’s additional virtue in songwriters tinkering subtly within their own genre or adjacent sonic palettes. Jazz fans in particular have a tendency to appreciate multiple and unique subgenres, which allows flexible and willing artists an avenue to create some truly excellent marriages of sound.
Which brings us to Jessica Ackerley, the artists behind the above musings/ramblings. As I dug into her previous album Coalesce, her unique approach to jazz guitar stirred comparisons to improvisers like Loren Connors, defined by a pensive, exploratory playing style. On her latest project, A New Kind of Water, the addition of saxophonist Sarah Manning and a few compositional tweaks make for a more jazz-oriented experience that still leverages Ackerley’s immense talents as an improviser.
This primarily manifests in well-written and perfectly paces compositions that maintain the kinetic, organic energy of improvised music. It’s a front-to-back kind of experience that warrants multiple listens; as I write this, I’m comfortable admitting that I still feel like there’s more left for me to unpack from the record. Just before I sat down to type this, my umpteenth play through of “Trifold” suddenly prompted an Eric Dolphy vibe to click in my head. The traditional jazz foundation accented by whimsical notes and a steady beat feels like a more experimental, measured version of the tracks on Out to Lunch led by a jazz guitarist instead of flutist.
It’s that kind of unique creativity that makes A New Kind of Water such a genuinely enjoyable listen. There’s plenty of intellectual conversations to be had about the ideas and techniques Ackerley and her quartet demonstrate, but you can also engage with the album simply as a fun, engaging listen. Around every corner, there’s a new flavor of progressions from Ackerley’s guitar, which flows in a unique way with what bassist Mat Muntz and drummer Stephen Boegehold are doing. Manning’s sax parts are perfectly spaced-out and always elevate the group’s performances, sometimes adding a casual, lounge-themed vibe and other times bringing the ferocity of a free jazz solo.
Put simply, A New Kind of Water is an excellent recommendation for jazz and non-jazz fans alike. Ackerley continues to dazzle as a composer, bandleader, and performer, and I’ll continue to wait eagerly for whatever she comes out with next. Whether her next step is expanding her jazz ensemble or putting out a solo improv record, the subsequent project will surely be infused with her balance of heady creativity and pure musical enjoyment.
A New Kind of Water is available now via Bandcamp.