Album reviews

Artificial Jazz – ‘She Walks’

Artificial Jazz – She Walks
(Self-released on Bandcamp. Review by Bruce Lindsay)

What to write about this new release? First, the basics: She Walks is a four-track EP, coming in at just under 6 minutes 30 seconds and credited to an ensemble called Artificial Jazz — composer Chris Donnelly on piano, lyricist Nicky Schrire on vocals, with Blake Li on bass and André Nguyen on drums. All fine so far.

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Then writer’s paranoia hits. The quotes on the press release are credited to Chat GPT, that existential threat to writers, reviewers and journalists everywhere. There’s a set of prompts for Chat GPT about how to write a press release, suggesting the whole thing is a product of AI; the band name hints that the music might be from the same source; there are quotes about how the band is “Blurring the lines between human collaboration and just the right sprinkling of artificial intelligence …” Just what is the “right sprinkling”? From AI’s perspective wouldn’t it be 100%? Has AI simply purloined the identities of two Canada-based performers as a smokescreen for its own creations? Is this review being written by the real Bruce Lindsay, or by yet another AI facsimile?

It’s a bit of a quandary but it’s not new, just coming from a new technology. Back in the day there were debates about real versus electronic drums, about the amount of auto-tune required to make singer X sound half-decent, about how much tape editing and splicing was “acceptable” in creating a finished track. Anyway, let’s assume that there are real humans involved here, based on one conclusion: She Walks is too much fun to be the creation of AI.

Schrire narrates, rather than sings, on all four tracks. Given her singing talent — beautifully demonstrated on 2023’s Nowhere Girl which also featured Donnelly — this is a bit of a disappointment, but luckily Schrire can speak with as much drama, humour and expressiveness as she demonstrates in her singing.

“She Walks” tells of a woman walking through the snow, her hair occasionally falling in “errant wisps” across her face, the instrumental trio underpinning the tale with jagged musical phrases. “Late Bloomer” appears to be a tale of envy-based horticulture. Schrire dips out for much of the track, giving space to Donnelly’s bright, dancing, piano. On “I Put On A Dress” Schrire tells of putting on a dress to please the unidentified “you.” The final line is worth the (short) wait. Best of all is “Hi Terrence,” on which Schrire reads a message she’s sending to a stage manager or festival organiser, the Terrence of the title, whose approach to his job has somewhat disappointed Schrire. One again, Donnelly, Li and Nguyen accentuate the story with their contributions. It’s a fitting communication, just the right balance of sarcasm, criticism, complaint and diplomacy, with another great final sentence, the track resembling Chris Dahlgren’s 2010 album Mystic Maze, on which he read out critics’ reviews of Béla Bartók’s works. It will be exciting to see where Donnelly and Schrire take this project in the future, if their AI master lets them. I wonder if Terrence replied?

LINK: She Walks on Bandcamp

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