Album Review: Matthew E. White & Lonnie Holley – Broken Mirror: A Selfie Reflection

[Spacebomb/Jagjaguwar; 2021]

When producer, singer-songwriter, and Spacebomb Records founder Matthew E. White pitched singer, musician, and sculptor Lonnie Holley on a collaborative project, the septuagenarian Holley began culling his notes and diaristic sketches while White proceeded to assemble a talented septet of instrumentalists with eclectic skills, some of whom are members of White’s jazz collective Fight the Big Bull. The result is the five-track Broken Mirror: A Selfie Reflection, in which White’s ensemble romps through myriad genres and crossover sonics, forging compelling soundscapes over which Holley moans and rants, addressing pertinent contemporary themes.

The project launches with “This Here Jungle of Modernness/Composition 14”, Holley’s voice wafting across a pastiche of elements loosely drawn from albums Ornette Coleman’s Free Jazz and Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew, as well as Herbie Hancock’s funk-leaning Head Hunters and the less solo-driven tracks of Davis’ Live-Evil. As the piece unfolds, White and company aurally complement Holley’s critique of capitalism’s problematic legacies, punctuating their roils with brief but fertile lulls, during which the listener is invited, perhaps, to consider how economic injustice and the loss of intimacy are concomitant to the sanctification of Constant Convenience.

On “Broken Mirror (A Selfie Reflection)/Composition 9”, lo-fi synth runs, discordant keyboard parts, and choppy guitars interweave while Holley declaims on “selfies” and “computer reality scattered and splattered.” Holley’s take is an impressionistic word salad undergirded by a collage of experimental and explorative instrumentation. With “I Cried Space Dust/Composition 12”, White’s team merges tribal acoustics reminiscent of last year’s We Are Sent Here by History from Shabaka and the Ancestors, serrated synths that conjure NIN at their commercial prime, and soul-inspired psychedelic flourishes that could’ve been plucked from D’Angelo. Toward the end of the piece, multiple vocal tracks overlap, Holley reflecting on the “awesome wonder of space dust” while drums and reverb-y synths bring the track to an end.

The electro-ambient “I’m Not Tripping/Composition 8” could’ve been loosely inspired by the Talking Heads’ fascination with Afro- and worldbeat templates. As the piece progresses, the soundscape swells and shrinks texturally, Holley hurling such words as “gigabyte” and “terabyte” to evoke an alien world. The closing track, “Get Up! Come Walk with Me/Composition 7”, features a dance-y drumbeat and a welter of random sounds, including someone whistling. While the track is unabashedly cacophonous, it also follows what feel like natural progressions, dynamically rising and dropping in volume, at times hinting at the rudiments of melody. With “Get Up! Come Walk with Me/Composition 7” – as with Broken Mirror: A Selfie Reflection in its entirety – White, Holley, and a cast of energized musicians question the post-human age while celebrating the creative process.