Neither the Jamire Williams who drummed with the likes of Dr. Lonnie Smith, Christian Scott, and Jeff Parker nor the one who made the free solo-drum album Effectual in 2016 is the Jamire Williams behind the eerie, astonishing But Only After You Have Suffered. This incarnation combines traces of his genre-busting former band EMIRAJ; generous hints of art-soul singer Solange, whose 2019 album When I Get Home Williams co-produced; and—judging by the sound—some potent LSD.
That last is wanton speculation. Still, the sound collages that constitute much of But Only After You Have Suffered favor amorphous, alien atmospheres with lots of reverb, psychedelic drones, and distorted pitch and speed (and other manipulation). Williams’ primary instruments are sequencers and samplers (sometimes adding drums, synths, Mellotron, and even vocals), but he is also the visionary behind this wholly undefinable music.
Sometimes a definition seems to be within reach, as in the loop-laden hip-hop of “Ugly” or “Safe Travels” (each featuring rappers) or the ambient, Vangelis-like “And Then the Anointing Fell.” But what the hell is the icy sound sculpture “Bow,” or the lo-fi ostinato “Just Hold On,” or the warped aria “Pause in His Presence”? They are worlds unto themselves, and the more “definable” tracks are nevertheless of a piece with them. Jazz, in the usual sense, comes only when guitarist Matthew Stevens puts some sotto-voce improvisation on the slow-burn “For the Youth” (the album’s closest brush with conventional songcraft) and pianist Jason Moran and bass clarinetist Jason Arce do the same on “No One Knows” and “And Then the Anointing Fell,” respectively. Even the loose term “avant-garde” is inadequate.
What’s for sure is that the music is profoundly unsettling—and profoundly compelling. Whatever dark alchemy is happening on But Only After You Have Suffered, let it keep happening.