Jessica Ackerley-Coalesce: Album Review

Jessica Ackerley is a Canadian-born jazz guitarist who has since relocated to New York City.  On Coalesce, she seems to have completely accomplished her goals.  To quote her liner notes: “Coalesce is an exploration of the guitar trio. The compositions have been a three-year process of honing the perfect balance between compositional form and complete free improvisation.”  It’s clear that the songs on this record are structured and planned, but the group’s flexibility is impeccable.  Melodies melt into open sections of improvisation with ease; solos flip-flop between individual focus and collective conversation effortlessly; and the group finds room to embrace space and silence between their primal noisy jam sessions making for a record that offers constant surprises and a perfect balance between not only improvisation and composition, but anticipation and stimulation.

To some degree, the final track ‘merica provides the best summary of the group’s various dynamic levels and playing spaces.  As the longest track of the collection, ‘merica builds up from near silence to a heavy final vamp, touching upon all the levels of the spectrum in between.  Ackerley opens alone with wandering guitar melody.  The line is rather simple and alters between a small handful of notes, but the delivery—especially considering the pounding heaviness of the preceding track—is quite unpredictable, drawing the listener closer for every strum.  As the presence of drummer Nick Fraser and bassist Mat Muntz grows in the middle, the group offers some great textures especially when Muntz rips squealing high notes out with his bow.  Towards the end of the track, Fraser rounds out the sound with frantic cymbal work as Ackerley lays down dramatic distorted pillars of guitar sound.

On other tracks, the group takes a variety of different approaches to song form, but focusses a bit more on specific levels of volume.  The opener, Clockwork, offers a comfortable middle ground to introduce the band.  The structure of this one is rather straight-forward as well with the group diving from main theme into a ‘solo’ section, then back to the main theme.  Again, I use the term solo rather cautiously because the forms are still rather fluid and each player seems to be constantly changing their playing style to fit wherever the melody is headed.

Minneola opens with guitar solo before jumping into a head with a bunch of different sections.  The end of the track doesn’t revert back to the beginning, rather Ackerley transitions from her solo to a vamp to give Fraser room to play around for the last couple minutes of the track.  Because the head never comes back in full, the track has a highly improvised sensibility.

Snakes in the Grass is perhaps the most bombastic tune.  Ackerley opens with some heavy-handed chords, and although there’s a bit of a digression after the initial head, madness overtakes a great deal of the track.  The primal intensity of this track is well earned and keeps things pushing towards the end.  Perhaps my only complaint on this record would be that the middle of the track-listing can be a bit slow, but this track and the final come together for a rousing finale.

The album shows a mastery of guitar tone from Ackerley.  Her subtle array of effects always seems to place her perfectly within the context of each piece.  On the introductory Clockwork, Ackerley keeps it rather clean, but when given space to her own on the aptly titled Solo Guitar, she plays around with an echo effect to fill up the room a bit more.  Heavy numbers obviously inspire distortion, but as we see at the beginning of ‘merica, Ackerley also finds time to caress slow melodies with waving foot pedal action.

Coalesce is a sensible name for this project.  It’s an experience that blends everything together super well, resulting in a dynamic 48-minute block with shining standout moments as well as a cohesive flow from idea to idea.  New York is a crowded place, but Ackerley is sure to be one of the young stars around town in the coming years.

-Donovan Burtan



The Uncoverables Podcast: Nick Fraser Interview

Click Here to Download

This week’s episode (is four days late….) features excerpts from an interview I did over the summer with Canadian Improvising Drummer Nick Fraser.  We spoke a bit about his philosophies surrounding improvisation and the process behind his latest album Starer which you can find at!  New music from outside the jazz world included after the interview portion.  Tune in!

(photo credit: Christer Männikus)

Playlist (artist-“tune” from album)

Nick Fraser-“Sketch #20/22” from Starer

Gintas K-“Minmi” from Under My Skin

Sarah Davachi-“Ghosts and All” from Vergers

Sneaks-“Inside Edition” from It’s a Myth

The Courtneys-“Silver Velvet” from II


2016 Review: Honorable Mentions

No Particular Order:

Weezer-self/titled (white album)

A sunny album that throws a little bit of pet sounds into the classic weezer mix.

Further Reading

Blood Quartet-Deep Red

No wave threw and threw with trumpet at the helm.

Further Reading

Kristoffer Lo-The Black Meat

A gloomy drone album that re-contextualizes the tuba with massive, electronic soundscapes coming into play at each climax.

Further Reading

Nao-For All We Know

A nonstop pop party.

Further Reading

Xenia Rubinos-Black Terry Cat

An amalgam of punk, soul, and hip-hop ethos with social awareness and charisma dripping down the walls of each track.

Further Reading

Jason Sharp-A Boat Upon Its Blood


A dense experience that searches for resolution throughout.

Further Reading


An album that never skips a beat, destroying the competition with each fiery verse.

Further Reading

Nick Fraser-Starer

A quick-hitting record that expertly navigates the space between planned and spontaneous.

Further Reading

Wadada Leo Smith and Vijay Iyer-a cosmic rhythm with each stroke

A striking duo project with an air of minimalism achieving an unexpected level of accessibility.

Further Reading

Braids-Companion EP

A necessary reiteration of the sounds of their 2015 record.

Further Reading

On the Monthly: June 2016

June had some really cool stuff from a lot of different genres check out my picks for the best of the best.

Nick Fraser-Starer

“Although the album includes one song of over 10 minutes in length, Fraser wastes little time in his idea development, quickly moving from minimalist beginnings to high-energy final blows.”

Check out an interview that I just did with Nick here

Review of “Minimalism/416-538-7149

First Impressions

Mitski-Puberty 2

“Puberty 2 opens with a song that speaks to the emotion of happiness as real person, providing a first hand look to at Mitski’s fleeting ability to remain happy.  Throughout the album Mitski maintains this discussion through a series of telling metaphors”

check out my thoughts on the tune “Crack Baby

First Impression

Jessy Lanza-Oh No

Had a chance to do an interview with Jessy for Cult MTL look out for it in the next week or so.

“collection of expertly produced electronic pop tunes that complement her strong vocal performance”

Check out my thoughts on “Never Enough

First Impressions

Nate Wooley-Argonautica

 “Through the incorporation of jazz musicians from the free community and the more straight-ahead fusion side of the jazz world,  Wooley presents a space where musicality is at the fore-front with different stylistic preferences epitomizing contrast.”

Liked this album a lot on my first listen as well as the three or four listens that followed.  Plan on doing a full review in the near future.

Clipping-Wriggle (EP)

Wriggle cover art

“the group uses intriguing sampling to construct an industrial aesthetic matching the hard-lined delivery of Diggs”

Check out my thoughts on the song “Shooter

First Impressions


case/lang/veirs cover art

“lush, folk sound aesthetic, each of them sharing the spotlight to allow their voices and lyricism to sing out together”

check out my thoughts on “Supermoon

First Impressions


Nick Fraser-“Minimalism/416​-​538​-​7149″_Ear Worms

minimalism/416-538-7149 cover art


Tony Malaby’s tense melody on album opener “Minimalism/416-538-7149” perfectly sets the tone for the piece and the rest of the album that follows.  His minor, dark tonalities are surrounded by oscillating strings with Fraser’s textural drum approach serving as the group’s glue.

“Minimalism” serves as a concise rundown of the band’s skills as they quickly move from abstract beginnings to a more hectic climax without over-emphasizing any particular level of energy.  As the album moves forward more exploration is done and time spent on specific levels of energy and dynamics, however, by lightly touching upon the band’s conception of sound development, “Minimalism” obtains a lot of replay value.

The group’s aesthetic is extraordinarily malleable with any player prone to work in the foreground or background depending on the stage of the song’s development.  This dynamic aspect of the ensemble’s sound conception is accomplished through the lack of stagnant root.  Fraser dances around the meter expertly while the absence of piano, an instrument prone to chordal repetition, allows the group to be extremely collective as all of their ideas may bounce off of each other in the non-hierarchical space.  Another symptom of the piano-less void is a certain lightness that the songs carry.  On this track in particular the plucking strings complement Malaby’s staccato.

Starer is a fantastic album.  It’s development and dynamicism combine for a beautiful level of musicality with the quick-hitting natures of the song maintaining the attention of the audience through every nook and cranny.


Nick Fraser-Starer_First Impressions

Starer cover art

Nick Fraser is a huge name in the canadian jazz scene.  His exquisitely modern drum chops never cease to take risks making him a force to be reckoned with in the live setting.  On his new album, Starer, Fraser takes his ensemble through a quick moving collage of various jazz sound aesthetics culminating in a release that values contrast without dwelling on specific ideas for too long.

One of the standout aspects of the album is it’s quick-hitting nature, a rare quality in the landscape of modern jazz.  Although the album includes one song of over 10 minutes in length, Fraser wastes little time in his idea development, quickly moving from minimalist beginnings to high-energy final blows.  The opening track “minimalism/416-538-7149” begins with quiet, oscillating plucked strings with Fraser himself playing a bit of a solo amongst the rhythm section.  Eventually, saxophone player Tony Malaby joins in along with other sparring melodic moments from the rest of the ensemble.

Fraser’s drum chops are on display constantly.  His textural approach to tom playing outlines the melodic developments perfectly without becoming too heavy.  Also, he seems to have a true knack for rhythmic articulation in a non-specified rhythmic space.  The album, as a whole, simply moves forward very well never remaining in stagnant, open-spaces for too long.

The group uses the two string musicians quite well.  Along with Fraser’s drum conception, Andrew Downing and Rob Clutton add an interesting texture that matches the singing nature of Tony Malaby’s saxophone phrasing.  Also, the idea of texture is reinforced by the ability of the ensemble to include both plucked Bass lines and elongated cello lines in the same space, which makes the absence of piano an afterthought.

Overall, Starer seemed to be a very well put together album on my first listen.  Fraser’s ensemble takes risks and maintains a heightened sense of musicality throughout resulting in a sleek, modern release with little room for excess.