Let’s get the obvious comparison out of the way – here is a young, female guitarist based out of New York with an idiosyncratic style who combines compositional and outside jazz. The parallels to Mary Halvorson are apparent, if not completely plain to see and hear. Ackerley, however, who originally hails from Canada, provides her own take on the guitar trio in this, her debut release as leader.
Teaming with Mat Muntz on bass and Nick Fraser on drums, Ackerley leads the group through seven tracks ranging in length from 3 to 10 minutes. Ackerley focuses on electric guitar with (for the most part) little distortion. Her lines feature aggressive strumming and chording along with cleanly-picked themes, not to mention the occasional speed-picked blowout. Muntz often runs counterpoint to Ackerley, while Fraser is a very busy percussionist. Both provide ample contributions of an unexpected nature even on the downtempo pieces.
The result is a trio that has more ideas than most groups of twice the size. For instance, on the 7-minute Discoid, there is so much to absorb that a single listen, or even two or three, is not sufficient. Notable about Coalesce is the compositions’ emphasis on space and their deliberate pacing. But even when creating ambiance, Ackerley’s unusual phrasing prevents the music from fading into the background. Between the spacious passages, the trio breaks out into a free-form blast of energy from time to time, with Ackerley turning up the distortion. Snakes in the Grass is an example of this approach, and is also a stand-out amongst a strong set of tracks.
Coalesce is a thoughtful and introspective debut. Not only does Ackerley lead the trio through an offering of creative jazz of unusually high quality, the group also exhibits an impressive amount of restraint while doing so. Instead of turning it up to 11 for forty minutes, they keep it at a slow burn across much of the album.
Let’s hope for more releases from Ackerley and company. Highly recommended.