Track Premiere: JJJJJerome Ellis “Dysfluent Waters”

Photo by Marc J. Franklin

On the second offering from JJJJJerome Ellis’s forthcoming opus, The Clearing, the composer and poet creates a space where reflection brings challenges to ingrained ideas and concepts. “My thesis is that Blackness, dysfluency and music are forces that open time,” Ellis states. “Opening brings possibilities: temporal refusal, temporal escape, temporal dissent,” he says, creating a demanding yet engaging suite of music, sound, and poetry with The Clearing that digs into the power of speech and articulation and how rules around them have been used by those in power as weapons to regulate Black people. 

Sonically, this music ripples through time. Basslines pulse, driving the piece forward, upward. Searching, searing piano lamentations gravitate toward the center, a beacon around spiraling flute expressions and skittering, rhythms tear at the fabric holding the foundation together. When Ellis quotes Toni Morrison, “‘Floods’ is the word they use, but in fact it is not flooding. It is remembering. Remembering where it used to be. All water has a perfect memory and is forever trying to get back to where it was,” he draws unbreakable connections to the idea that speech dysfluency, and stuttering specifically, is a node of possibility and potential.

“Is the stream of my dysfluent speech remembering where it used to be? Are my glottal blocks floods? What if fluency is like the straightening of the Mississippi, severing orality from a prior fullness?”

As “Dysfluent Waters” moves across the shifting cadence, the ambient spaces expand, the palette growing more ephemeral and cathartic echoing the John Spencer Bassett quote from Slavery in the State of North Carolina that he recites. “At night they would begin to sing their native songs, and in a short while would become so wrought up that, utterly oblivious to the danger involved.” Saxophone spirits in, blowing fierce and free across the acrobatic rhythm. 

Ellis posits the silences created from stuttering resist linear time, and his music and words offer listeners a chance to envision new ways to exist within this framework. 

The Clearing is co-produced by Northern Spy/NNA Tapes and the Poetry Project. The album will be released on November 5 in tandem with a book published by Wendy’s Subway.


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