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Joan As Police Woman
Photo: Courtesy of Reveal Records via Bandcamp

Joan as Police Woman Finds ‘The Solution Is Restless’

There’s something self-contained about Joan As Police Woman, Tony Allen, and Dave Okumu’s The Solution Is Restless reflecting the claustrophobia of the times.

The Solution Is Restless
Joan As Police Woman, Tony Allen, and Dave Okumu
Reveal Records
5 November 2021

Joan As Police Woman (Joan Wasser) is best-known for her eclecticism as a singer, multi-instrumentalist, and composer. She’s collaborated with such diverse notables as Antony and the Johnsons, Rufus Wainwright, Gorillaz, and many others. In 2019, she was invited to join Africa Express, a non-profit organization that facilitates cross-cultural exchanges between musicians in African, Middle Eastern, and Western countries. Gorillaz’s Damon Albarn introduced the New York-based artist to Nigerian drummer Tony Allen (Fela Kuti’s Africa ’70, The Good, The Bad & The Queen), where the two of them played a version of Nina Simone’s “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free” at an event. The two decided to continue working together afterward.

Wasser invited her friend and colleague English singer/multi-instrumentalist Dave Okumo (The Invisibles, Jessie Ware) to join them. The three spent a night improvising in a Paris studio. Wasser then used this meeting as the source material for this album. The songs on The Solution Is Restless are credited to the three of them. Other players include Cole Kamen-Green (trumpet) on three tracks, and Meshell Ndegeocello (bass), Parker Kindred (percussion), and Aviram Barath (Moog) on the opening number.

The ten tracks here vary in length here from a short two minutes (“Dinner Date”) to a rubbery 11-plus minutes (“The Barbarian”), but they all share several traits based on Allen’s steady drumbeats. He acts like a live metronome that keeps the music fluid. Okuma’s contributions (bass, guitar, percussion) provide color and variety to the musical palette. Wasser sings and plays strings, piano, 12-string acoustic guitar, Wurlitzer, synths, and bass that slither over Allen and Okuma’s foundation.

Wasser’s lyrics range from the enigmatic to the chatty. She keeps her volume low as if she is talking to herself more than addressing the listener. With lines like “I spy on myself and watch my reactions”, “Are you afraid to hear a gospel so unholy”, and “I know denying is a way to get by”, she remains self-referential while addressing a mysterious someone. One hears bits and pieces of communication rather than a narrative as indicated by enigmatic titles such as “Masquerader”, “Geometry of You”, and “Get My Bearings” (the latter fearing Albarn).

There is something self-contained about the project that reflects the claustrophobia of the times. The album’s title suggests the answer to being shut-in is not accepting limitations. That doesn’t mean literally. Wasser proclaims the power of remaining on edge. The solution may be in being restless rather than accepting our fate, but the problem remains undefined.

While The Solution Is Restless was initially recorded before the pandemic, Wasser created it during the lockdown. (It was mixed by Luke Moellman and mastered by Fred Kevorkian.) The album honors Tony Allen who died before the record was completed, and one song (“Perfect Shade of Blue”) includes Allen’s voice in a conversation. The album is also dedicated to the late Hal Willner “who sparked the deepest magic in collaboration”. The music here provides evidence of the enchantment that happens when artists get together.

RATING 7 / 10
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