Jake Allen and Jennifer Mann’s Refractions, Vol. 1 

If you’re like me and long to hear about a different kind of project that boasts familiarity while pushing the envelope in challenging ways, Jake Allen and Jennifer Mann’s Refractions, Vol. 1 is the release for you. This ten-track effort combines painting and musical composition in an inventive yet straightforward fashion. Many of multi-instrumentalist Jake Allen’s compositions are interpretations of Jennifer Mann’s paintings while other tracks Allen’s interpretations of Allen’s songwriting. A mutual acquaintance brought the two together, but they are united by their shared condition of synesthesia. Both principles experience sound as color and color as sound, a trait shared by few, and it forms the foundation for each of Refractions’ ten recordings.

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However, it remains an accessible work. One chief reason for its accessibility is Allen’s steadfast reliance on melody. The music for the opening combination “Diamond” hinges on several potent melodies delivered by his marvelous electric guitar work. His musical contributions embody the constant motion implied by Mann’s painting, and their moods dovetail into one another. Experienced music listeners are used to hearing bands and particular bandmates sharing obvious chemistry. The simpatico relationship between Allen and Mann’s work achieves an altogether different dimension.

There are recurring themes of color present throughout the release. For example, “Aquamarine” and “Fluorite” look culled from the same general palette. They achieve similar, yet different, effects. Allen tempers his musical bent for pieces such as this. His response to her visual magic is the keystone for the release, and he shows enormous sensitivity in his musical conceptions. I identify three predominant motifs driving the release. The first is cast in the mold of the opener “Diamond” and returns with later pieces such as “Topaz”.

You see and hear the second motif in works such as “Obsidian” and “Tiger’s Eye”. Mann’s paintings for these specific pieces are very different than the other work, I see less turmoil, and they share a darker demeanor. This extends to their musical companion pieces. In particular, “Obsidian” burns with an intense passion notable on a release where passion isn’t in short supply. “Tiger’s Eye” shares the same characteristics.

Jake Allen

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Allen deserves plaudits for a willingness to think outside the musical box. Incorporating instruments such as a dulcimer into the album’s musical landscape shows a level of audaciousness. He concludes the release on an equally audacious note with the third motif. “Carnelian” is an especially breathtaking painting. There’s great beauty in the work, it’s a virtual whirlwind of color, yet there’s violence as well.

However, Allen cuts against the grain. He manipulates the dynamics as the piece moves forward, but there’s a gentleness present in the performance that strikes a sharp contrast with its visual component. It concludes Refractions, Vol. 1 on a resounding note. Mann and Allen have successfully broached new territory with this marriage of art and music without remaking their respective mediums. Instead, they’ve united the strengths of each into a greater whole that challenges listeners without ever overwhelming them. It’s a wide-open experience that doesn’t exhaust itself with a single listen and viewing.

Clay Burton