Recorded remotely in lockdown, Ashley Paul’s latest full-length is a celebration of downbeat jazz moods, flirting with pop sentimentality but existing entirely in its own space. Unassumingly gorgeous and unashamedly unique from beginning to end, it’s by some distance the most approachable and memorable release in Paul’s enviable catalogue to date.
Any music assembled in the last few months is bound to grapple with the stark reality of our amended global situation, whether that’s isolation, burnout, precariousness or uncertainty. For London-based American multi-instrumentalist Ashley Paul, music has been her way of coping with daily stress, “to cancel out the barrage of terrible news happening outside”.
A remote collaboration with friends Yoni Silver (on bass clarinet) and Otto Willberg (on double bass), tracks were shuttled from Ashley to her collaborators as sketches, leaving room for improvisation. The trio is so tight, though, that it’s hard to tell the players weren’t in the same room together. The music they make is intimate but ambitious; somewhere between Klezmer standards, Tom Waits’ weirdo lullabies and a sort of brittle modernism we associate with Margaret Fiedler’s work with both Moonshake and Laika, or even the childlike sophistication of brum mainstays Pram, often building from whisper-soft openings that hinge around Ashley’s free-form vocals, through to the prismatic slow-motion jazz that gradually envelops and shields us from any lingering anxiety of isolation.
These pieces are diaristic and tinged with sadness, but there is a generosity of spirit coarsing through ‘Ray’ that conjures warmth in hues of almost amniotic glowing orange and red, deployed with a kind of comforting tenderness that’s not typical of the experimental music scene Paul inhabits, and which is no doubt a symptom of her recent motherhood, reaching us here like a much needed balm for the soul.