AMN Reviews: Jessica Ackerley – A New Kind of Water (2019; Bandcamp)

Guitarist Jessica Ackerley returns with her sophomore effort, A New Kind of Water. This time around, she leads a quartet including Sarah Manning on alto sax, Mat Muntz on bass, and Stephen Boegehold on drums. But similar to her debut, Coalesce, this group provides a rich, detailed, and often understated set of tracks.

The addition of Manning, if anything, accentuates Ackerley’s outside tendencies. Manning’s melodies include long-held notes and discordant leads, with staccato lines that blend well with Ackerley’s strumming and picking. The two women trade leads in a collaborative and non-showy fashion, with Ackerley’s clean electric notes also serving as a counter-rhythm to the bass and drums. But where this album shines is when the four head down less structured paths. While not exactly freely improvised, these more open-ended sections are subtle and frequently quiet. The listener is occupied by expectations of unusual notes and patterns, while tension builds until being released by another solo. On the other hand, Ackerley’s composed themes are interspersed throughout, and tend to be labyrinthine and tangled. But just when you think you have her modus operandi figured out, a twisted piece with a walking bass line will make you wonder whether that is the case.

The result is an endearingly unclassifiable mix of indeterminacy and pattern, restraint and liberation, and intellect and emotion. Like so many people in modern creative music circles in this era, Ackerley and company are completely comfortable in between multiple genres. And that, along with stellar musicianship and writing, is what makes A New Kind of Water so compelling.