Jessica Moss: Pools Of Light
Constellation Records

Though Pools Of Light is Jessica Moss's first full-length solo album (not including Under Plastic Island, her 2015 self-released cassette), the Montreal-based violinist will be a familiar name to long-time Constellation listeners: she was a card-carrying member from 2001 to 2014 of Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra, as well as a founding member of Black Ox Orkestar; bolstering those already impressive credentials, she contributed to multiple records by Carla Bozulich's Evangelista and two albums by Vic Chesnutt. Such involvements primed her wonderfully well for this powerful solo effort, which, abetted by an array of pedals (distortions, octave/harmonizers, samplers/loopers), she performed entirely on her own in real time. That live dimension gives the album's two side-length, multi-part compositions a visceral and sometimes raw character that makes them all the more engaging.

Moss's music smudges the lines between several genres, among them neo-classical, experimental, art-punk, and folk, and in her hands, the violin becomes a bountiful source of adventurous possibilities, especially when its potential soundworld is broadened so considerably by signal-processing and analog treatments. Narratively conceived, structured, and presented, Pools Of Light is socially conscious but not heavy-handed. In her music, Moss alludes to issues of contemporary resonance such as climate change, industrial waste (Under Plastic Island's title refers to trash floating in the ocean), and the plight of refugees, the intent being to bring attention to pressing topics without necessarily imposing a particular position on the listener. During “Entire Populations,” for example, her singing largely limits itself to repetitions of the title, a move that leaves the listener to grapple with any number of possible meanings.

That four-part, twenty-four-minute setting establishes its haunting quality immediately with a sinuous, klezmer-inflected theme that gradually blossoms into a mini-string orchestra when Moss multiplies her melodies into contrapuntal layers. Stately and elegiac, the music unfolds with the measured deliberation of a funeral procession until it withdraws into near silence, setting the stage for the second part's vocalizing, which, initially abetted by wolf howls and enunciated clearly, grows increasingly declamatory and frayed at the edges. Eventually the vocals recede, replaced by shuddering violins and dive-bombing electronics that give way in turn to a theme both majestic and mournful and a stirring strings-only coda that resolves the piece beautifully.

The flip side's four-part “Glaciers” (“Glaciers I” and “Glaciers II” each two-part sections) serves notice that it will be haunting too when it begins with a glossolalic flurry of dazed stutters and howling strings; that she seems to be speaking here in tongues makes some kind of strange sense, given the immediacy with which her music connects at a sub-lingual level. The second half of “Glaciers I” moves into ambient-drone territory before “Glaciers II” brings the recording to a remarkably poignant close with music that's even more affecting than that which caps side one. Though she's clearly proven herself to be an invaluable team member in other projects, Pools Of Light makes the strongest of all possible cases for Moss's credibility as a solo artist.

April 2017