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Jemma Freese – Shadow Boxing Review

Welcome to math jazz - a genre you never knew you needed.

What does Jemma Freese sound like?

Cinematic alternative jazz mixed with rock and a one-woman world choir. Yes, I know – but trust me.

The review of Jemma Freese – Shadow Boxing

I’d heard of math rock before but Jemma Freese is my first foray into the world of math jazz. That only tells part of the story though as Jemma Freese’s album ‘Shadow Boxing’ is a cavalcade of sumptuous ideas, expressed freely. In reality, Jemma’s work is an ethereal melting pot of alternative, jazz, classical ideas and a unique voice.

Jemma Freese

Let’s start with that voice then. Jemma Freese’s voice reminds me heavily of Sarah McLachlan’s voice that she only used on her debut album “Touch”. It is high pitched, soaring and quite operatic at times. Jemma uses it as a melodic instrument as much as a vocal lead. On the opening track “Shadow Boxer Pt 1” there are no words but Jemma’s voice is the main event. She wooshes and oohs her way like a mathematic shuffleboard whipping her voice around bombastic piano, synths and drums. It’s like GoGo Penguin, Tori Amos and Tanya Tagaq are having a jamming session. The rhythms and repetition are crucial to how a track is built up and evolves but it never stays still. Something is always unravelling into its next form and that keeps Jemma’s music interesting and intoxicating.

This album is the musical equivalent of an emotion spinning off its axis. “My Body Talks” is a patchwork quilt of vocal snippets, dramatic drums, dance beats, pulsating synth strings from a techno bar and classical piano. It carries itself like an experimental classical piece in dance music clothing. “How Did This All Start” is much more alternative rock driven but still with jazz overtones. Electric guitar sizzle roars under tom drum explosions and vocal cries. It feels like the most melodic personal war recorded this year. “Tell Me How To Live Again” is a sumptuous symphony of rolling piano and soothing vocal layers that try to calm the gothic low-note piano anger.

You are never a few bars away from something experimental being thrown at you either. After a calming first half of “Shadow Boxer Pt 2”, Jemma turns her voice into a Bulgarian folk singer through various effects as we enter a prog rock jam. This idea of turning her voice into a battle cry continues through into the orgasmic “I Am Beginning”. This track takes vocal scat ideas you get from artists like Camille and turns them into psychedelic jazz with whirling organs, dance pads and cinematic rock surges. Only the closing track “The Fear That Stays” resembles anything like a traditional song structure. Jemma Freese leaves her lyrics and vocals for the ethereal gothic closer that evokes a Sarah Kirkland Snider darkness. Mix in a little Amanda Palmer in the vocal delivery and you have something that is utterly captivating.

‘Shadow Boxing’ is an ambitious and difficult to categorise album but that’s what makes it so compelling. It shapeshifts from alternative to jazz to classical to prog rock to vocal choir harmony and usually does it all in under three minutes. Yet not once does the overall tonality or complexity feel haphazard or out of place. All the emotional surges and tides perfectly align to wash you from one feeling to the next. As such, I feel like Jemma Freese has created a true artist’s album that creatives can feel and get behind. It is superb and deserves your attention.

Recommended track: I am Beginning

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Jemma Freese - Shadow Boxing



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