by Yvette Janine Jackson
(Fridman Gallery, LP)

Afro-futurism has a long history within jazz music. Simply expressed, it parallels written sci-fi texts: stories describing alternative and alien worlds, places where politics, cultures, relationships are different. Musicians such as Sun Ra and, more recently, Shabaka Hutchings have used the method with incredible levels of creativity as a way of circumnavigating racism. The US-based artist and composer Yvette Janine Jackson works very much in this imaginary tradition: the difference is that she is travelling in the opposite direction. Freedom, a limited edition LP comprising of her two radio operas, Destination Freedom and Invisible People, goes backwards to works that imagine the horrors of the Middle Passage on the one hand, and, also, closer to our time, President Obama’s support of marriage equality in 2015.

Jackson uses various tools to construct her work. Tape cut-ups, electronics from a vintage synthesizer, as well as more conventional music from her improvising ensemble are her compositional methods. Destination Freedom begins with water slapping against a surface, we segue into soundscape where we might be hearing whispers, a few lines of a contralto singing, cries, a scream. A pressure of sound builds and then a terrible silence. Invisible People is a powerful indictment of the US black community’s opposition to equal marriage. That so often the voices collaged here are beautiful ones – the lilt of a pastor’s voice, music from a church service, is painful. We hear litanies of homophobic remarks and then, finally, the jazz breaks through – an imaging, perhaps, of a better world.

Louise Gray


by Alostmen
(Strut Records, CD + LP)

‘Kologo here before the banjo, kologo here before the lute… kologo music be the root.’ So goes the refrain to the opening song to the Alostmen’s homage to their instrument of choice. The kologo is a two-stringed lute, a precursor of the banjo, and an instrument known throughout West Africa. It’s also an instrument that is easily at hand, with a resonating chamber which might be carefully made from a gourd, or, in a more ready way, with an oil can. Either way, the diversity of the ways to construct the kologo speaks to its essential popularity.

Headed by Ghana’s Stevo Atambire, the Alostmen quintet opens up its debut album with a griot-style song of lineage. However, this time, it’s an instrument rather than a human that is the object of praise. It’s a nice way of underlining the family tree of objects which reminds us of the African ancestry of so much guitar music. This upbeat song is delivered, like sections of the album, in English, a lingua franca employed here to make the point about African heritage. Alostmen is for the most part an acoustic ensemble, which, for the purposes of this album, imports a bit of extra support – horns, viol and bass guitar – when needed. The music is intricately patterned, easy on the ear and intended to get its audience moving. Atambire’s kologo playing sets up some blistering tempi: ‘Atubga’, an ode to his kolongo-playing grandfather, zips along. Strong percussive rhythms and sinuous vocals make for compelling listening. The raw recording productions complement the music: hearing Kologo, you feel like you’ve turned a corner into a vivacious party.

Louise Gray