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Adjunct Ensemble
Sovereign Bodies / Ritual Taxonomy Vanessa Ague , May 16th, 2023 07:45

Featuring the combined talents of Felispeaks, Catherine Sikora Mingus, Mariam Rezaei, Amy Ní Fhearraigh, Stephen Davis, Darren Beckett and Oscar Cassidy, Jamie Thompson's ensemble is best when it goes big, finds Vanessa Ague

Sovereign Bodies / Ritual Taxonomy opens with eeriness. A robotic voice interweaves with razor-sharp turntable scratches and searing poetry; sound jolts on and off, striking like lightning. It’s a fitting start for the ever-evolving record, which features music by Irish composer Jamie Thompson played by his fluid group Adjunct Ensemble. They use these ominous, anguished and unpredictable palettes to discuss the process of immigration today.

Adjunct Ensemble’s work deals in surprises, traversing a variety of genres, styles and instrumentations. With Sovereign Bodies / Ritual Taxonomy, the ensemble comprises spoken word artist Felicia Olusanya (Felispeaks), soprano Amy Ní Fhearraigh, turntablist Mariam Rezaei, pianist Elliot Galvin, jazz-punk trio Taupe, saxophonist Catherine Sikora Mingus, percussionists Stephen Davis, Darren Beckett and Oscar Cassidy, and bassist John Pope. Thompson collaged the album together over the course of 2020–2022. It was, at first, a five-song suite for operatic soprano and electronics that drew on recordings from Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan, Syria, Sudan and Yemen to reflect on the effects of colonialism. In its final form, it moves between spoken word, opera, free jazz, drones and noise, often bringing all the elements together to explore the emotional dichotomies of immigration.

When Adjunct Ensemble leans into the music’s maximalism, it feels its most commanding. Tracks like ‘Open Your Eyes’ are eviscerating, born from a bold saxophone riff and undulating drone that accompanies Olusanya’s incisive, booming poetry. ‘God, Who Made Thee Mighty’ blossoms from a delicate piano twinkle into an explosive guitar melody paired with crashing drums and growing voices. Elsewhere, their music takes a sparser turn to lesser effect – tracks like ‘The Taste They Wake Up With’ feel hollowed out, made of distant singing and scrapes. Here, the music feels one-dimensional, whereas in the album’s pinnacles, unexpected pairings clash to create a sense of intensity, building up energy until it topples over.

But the arresting closer ‘We Have Seen/Some Might Say’ feels the most potent, capturing the emotions of Sovereign Bodies / Ritual Taxonomy at once. It begins with a deep, beating drone and operatic vocals as a drumroll and turntable sounds swarm underneath; the words “I am required to show you professional empathy” eerily echo like a warning. But this mass of sound cuts away, and from seemingly nowhere a nostalgic, looping jazz melody emerges. Most of the album is about bringing contrasting feelings together, but here, it’s only poignancy that stands out. In those last breaths, there isn’t resolution, but a powerful moment of meditation.