Gemma Freese took up shadow boxing after a shocking and still-mysterious breakdown of her body threatened to end her musical career. It helped her regain her strength and presented a style of inner struggle against unseen enemies, both physical and mental battles fought over the course of this debut album.
The 2020 Leeds Conservatoire already has a varied and high-profile CV, Friese’s most ingrained skills are as a keyboardist, but Shadow Box also mixes familiar sounds with a twang that, she says, literally makes me want to laugh at the technique (“some of the vowels”) she’s been chasing since her health crisis. She tells Jazzviz. Here, disintegration is another outward expression of inner turmoil, sometimes leading to devotional or tribal chants, sanctimonious expressions set over keyboard beats and guitar squeals.
Arrangements are alternating, rhythms often staccato or sloppy, like Gittri’s Morse code. The studio is transformed into a reverberating isolation room that plays out Friese’s trauma and recovery, like a version of a blue courtroom in Powell and Pressburger’s film metaphor, and the life-and-death issue of the surgeon’s knife. There are broad prog and fusion elements but despite the full band sessions, Shadow Boxing continues the individual’s necessarily inner journey. Each track acts as a new experiment, which in general becomes a form of redemption. The concluding ‘old fear’ admits that total recovery and return to old ways is an illusion. “Why do I panic when I panic?” she asks. “So what’s the difference? I was not safe anywhere.” “Everybody has a script,” Freeze said, cutting her own. At a tumultuous start to her career, she threw her options wide open. Promising things to come.