Matthew E White and Lonnie Holley: Broken Mirror review - well it’s certainly out there


At his Richmond, Virginia studio Spacebomb, Matthew E White revived the idea of the house band – a supremely talented backing group that can play with anyone that arrives and presses record. On their most popular releases, including Natalie Prass’s self-titled debut from 2015 and White’s 2012 album Big Inner, that has meant a sumptuous country-soul sound laden with strings and horns, but given that he and many of Spacebomb’s personnel are graduates of the prestigious Jazz Studies course at the city’s Virginia Commonwealth University, they were inevitably going to end up heading somewhere more challenging.

Cue Broken Mirror: A Selfie Reflection - a team-up with 71-year-old Lonnie Holley, a sculptor of found objects who has work owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art and on permanent display at the United Nations, and who only began putting his improvised music on record in 2012. Here Holley sings in husky, meandering tones over spontaneously recorded White noise that he is hearing for the first time as he goes. It’s a wild mess at times, especially on This Here Jungle of Modernness/Composition 14, which sounds barely held together by an urgent bassline.

Having mused on slavery and the state of America on his 2018 album MITH, Holley’s thoughts on “the digital age” feel less compelling. While the title track eventually locks into a muscular funk groove, he’s “Instagramming instantly – post post post it right away.” Newcomers to White’s world will find far easier entry points, while existing fans curious to know how far out there he can go now have a satisfying answer.