AMN Reviews

AMN Reviews: SSWAN (Ackerley, Shiroishi, Williams, Stewart, and Nazary) – Invisibility is an Unnatural Disaster (2022; 577 Records)

577 Records has turned up the intensity in the last few years, releasing dozens of compelling albums from new groupings of artists, mostly focused on free improvisation. Here, we have Patrick Shiroishi on sax, Chris Williams on trumpet, Jessica Ackerley on electric guitar, Luke Stewart on bass, and Jason Nazary on drums. I’ll leave it to others to make the “supergroup” superlatives, but that designation is fitting given each musician’s respective accomplishments over the last decade. Consisting of three tracks spanning 35 minutes, SSWAN covers a lot of ground in this debut.

The title track begins with heavy blues from Ackerley accompanied by dense outside playing from Nazary. Shiroishi joins in to counterpoint and duel with Ackerley. These efforts evolve into full-group open improv, with start-stop rhythms and a very loose spiky structure. Williams accentuates Shiroishi’s soloing, and Stewart plays leads on the bass while Ackerley switches between short motifs and chording. The sum of parts is chaotic yet information-rich. The quintet plays together but simultaneously pulls in five different directions.

Pattern Phases follows, with quiet textural blowing from Shiroishi and Williams coupled with a soft rhythm. The other members join in to produce a scattered and rattling mass of sounds, with plentiful extended techniques. The jagged nature of this piece grows as it picks up pace and becomes pleasantly busy. A Miracle’s Worth features offbeat harmonics from Ackerley, cymbal-heavy work from Nazary, as well as both drones and spiraling patterns from the horn players. A plaintive sadness is ever-present, with quieter passages including bowed bass, wordless vocals, and gritty percussion.

SSWAN manages to cover a significant range of colors and emotions. In line with the classic free jazz of decades past, their efforts exhibit both existential pain and unfiltered joy. Invisibility is an Unnatural Disaster will be out on September 2 from 577 Records.