Extraordinary debut study on race and sexual politics in the USA from emergent composer and Harvard music professor Yvette Janine Jackson, yielding an unmissable introduction to her immersive style of electro-acoustic composition and radioplay opera forms - RIYL Matana Roberts, John Cage, Terre Thaemlitz, Sun Ra.
Contrasting one side of haunting atmospheres evoking the feel of below-deck on a slave ship, with one side of politically pointed concrète and jazz spasms, ‘Freedom’ is among the strongest debuts in this field we’ve heard in years. The latest from the musical wing of NYC’s Fridman Gallery, Jackson’s visionary first record is like little else in the contemporary sphere, placing a hugely varied electro-acoustic palette of strings, keys, electronics and vocal samples at the service of a timeless, avant style of storytelling, and with a personalised depth and purposeful pacing that leaves us rapt. As one may be able to gauge from its themes, it’s not an easy listen, but it is one that divines a portent strength in its poignant sadness and the artist’s skill in theatric suggestiveness.
Critically ‘Freedom’ manifests as part of the artist’s search for an “African American aesthetic for electroacoustic music that speaks to all people in order to foster conversation about contentious subjects.” The first side spells out a quiet but truly harrowing 22 minute transition from creaking drones, whispers and whimpers, to seasick string dissonance and noise with a patience that evokes the scale and terrifying nature of the ordeal suffered by African slaves, and with a queered coda that really sets it from a modern perspective.
Expectations set, Jackson upends them on side B’s mix of liminal electronics ruptured by original jazz arrangements and the sampled equivocations of prominent African Americans religious figures on LGBTQIA+ people. The voices of comedians and a president are presented, mangled and straight, in initially hypnagogic forms that become more fractious, juxtaposed against passages of rolling drums recalling Varese’s ‘Poème Electronique’ and a quasi-speed Parmegiani as much as Milton Graves works, or particularly the piece’s touchstone; John Cage’s 1942 radio play ‘The City Wears a Slouch Hat.'
Jackson is pushing the prism of African American electroacoustic music in fascinating, exemplary ways that we can only hope opens the door for more artists to follow her lead. For now. we have this absolute marvel to pore over and absorb.