Joan as Policewoman  – The Solution Is Restless: Album Review

Joan as Policewoman / Tony Allen / Dave Okumu – The Solution is Restless is out on vinyl November 27th 2021.

Multi-instrumentalists make the best collaborators. Even though they could walk down the Stevie Wonder or Prince path of the ‘self-saucing pudding’ and go it alone, they don’t. Instead, they enjoy the ‘chemmie’ that is a transcendental mystery of what jazz musicians, co-writers, musical directors, beat poets and film-score composers know, as the frictionless ecstasy of creative collaboration. This is what is happening: sparks fly and genius is felt and sounded.

Joan As Police WomanThis 9th studio album from Joan Wasser’s Joan as Policewoman is a divine one… possibly even divinely guided. This magical meeting of musical souls came from Damon Albarn (Blur, Gorillaz)’s curation of an Africa Express event ‘The Circus’ in London 2019.

Albarn paired Fela Kuti’s long-time musical director and originator of ‘Afrobeat’ Tony Allen with Wasser on Nina Simone’s I wish I Know How it would feel to be Free. Add to the mix The Invisible’s Dave Okumu (another session musician extraordinaire … King Sunny Ade, Jack De Johnette, Anna Calvi) and… The Solution is Restless.

Wasser says, they “made a pact to record together in the future. In November of that year, our pact was realised. My old friend and fierce musician Dave Okumu joined Tony and me in a Parisian studio (Midilife), where we improvised, untethered by form or tempo. I left with the tapes without knowing exactly how I’d use them”.

In April 2020, Wasser lost her beloved mentor, Hal Willner to COVID-19. He had been sketch music producer for Saturday Night Live for over 40 years and a wizard facilitator of myriad recordings and performances including 2006’s tribute concert Came So Far For Beauty that became the documentary Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man). He had made her musical director of the Vancouver Winter Olympics and a tribute concert in Prospect Park to Neil Young.

As Wasser puts it “Hal created beautiful and unlikely collaborations among artists”. Grieving Hal’s death, I began creating songs from the Parisian improvisations, only to learn of Tony’s passing while in the studio. As my world became undone, I focused on creating the new album from the Paris collaboration. The pandemic allowed me to explore and experiment for months in my home studio.”

More jazz-inspired, adventurous, improvised, fearless, unconforming, and firmly rooted in the Afrojazz of Tony Allen’s Posturepedic and rhythmic abgrund, this artefact is a deep processing of grief. A Phoenix-like, Plutonic journey through the  underworld. Negotiating through the problems of pandemic, lockdown and loss = music is the solution. And, as aforementioned, the solution is ‘restless’.

Joan Wasser is a force of nature. She provides vocals, strings, piano, 12 string acoustic guitar, Wurlitzer, synths, bass, percussion, production and all lyrical content on these ten ethulgent tracks.

Opening track, The Barbarian slams you with its funk. Ably assisted by Meshell Ndegeocello on bass, it asks “Are you afraid to hear a gospel so unholy? … I know you hate the change / the sound of the slipping chain makes us crazy”. reconfirming Wasser as a lyricist’s lyricist, a musician’s musician, a songwriter’s songwriter, and a poet’s poet. Little wonder The Economist wrote “Joan As Police Woman is one of the 21st century’s best musicians” and The Guardian – “A voice so wondrous and moving that it makes everyone else’s seem ordinary and mundane.”

Joan As Police Woman x Tony Allen x Dave Okumu – Geometry Of You

Each musician shines brightly, as is typical in jazz. There are extended solos a plenty. I melt into Dave Okumu’s contributions. He plays bass like fire and water on tracks 2-4, 6-10, guitar on tracks 1,2,4,7,8,10, and percussion on Geometry of You.

Of this last track, Wasser says “Geometry Of You is a song about the intersection of math and sensuality. It’s what Tony Allen did every time he sat down to play…  Finding the flexibility in life is the way I most connect with joy.”

And there is SO much joy. Perfect Shade of Blue, the album’s most slappingly afrobeat track, ends with in-studio banter where we hear Wasser saying “I’m so glad we set this up as a weekly thing and we’re gonna see you guys next week at the same time … This is great news. You wanna do one more? … It’s too fun!!” amid laughter and concurrence.

Take Me to Your Leader, the first single/video from this album, is dedicated to and in praise of our very own PM, Jacinda Adern. Speaking for the U.S. the final lines of the song confess “we need help to reassemble, to start again, to press reset, to make amends / Please take us to your leader, and we’ll listen

Joan As Police Woman x Tony Allen x Dave Okumu – Take Me To Your Leader

Other contributors give great colour and texture to this masterpiece: Cole Kamen-Green’s tasty trumpet throughout, Damon Albarn singing and playing piano on Get My Bearings, and Parker Kindred (percussion) and Aviram Barath (Moog) supplying a driving momentum to the nearly 12 minute opening track.

Mixed by Luke Moellman and mastered by long-time JAPW collaborator Fred Kevorkian, this album honours Tony Allen (who Brian Eno claimed was “perhaps the greatest drummer who has ever lived” and Hal Willnar, who Wasser says “sparked the deepest magic in collaboration”. I believe this is what has happened here.

This album speaks directly to your soul. It invites us to ‘Stay restless’, asks questions of us as her peers and provides us with a a most beautiful solution.
“Have you ever been inside a song that really changed thе way you feel?
That really changed the way you look at thе world forever?
Find the sound that moves you to forget all of your troubles

and you must hear it again so you can breathe
Don’t you wonder sometimes ’bout sound and vision?
This is a song that I play when I must find a way to carry on”

Caitlin Smith


Joan As Police Woman Announces 4 NZ Shows June 2022Joan As Police Woman