Essential New Music: A.F. Jones’ “A Jurist For Nothing”

Anyone who’s served a tour of duty under the waves will tell you that the sound of inrushing water is not something to ignore. So that A.F. Jones—a retired submariner as well as a currently practicing guitarist, mastering engineer and field recordist—opens A Jurist For Nothing with first a trickle and then a gush of fluid suggests that he wants our attention. 

But what comes next is more of an invitation to ponder a multitude of circumstances than a demand to acknowledge a given point. Jones layers collected sounds as near as an opening door and as far as the next neighborhood’s traffic with low-key, high-tension strumming, and he gives each piece a title that’ll send you down a rabbit hole of reading and research. He wields sound like late filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky handled light and images; by luring you in with a richly textured surface and letting a scene patiently play out, he draws you into layer upon layer of meaning. 

On “Miserere Mei,” for example, some impossible-to-source sound draws you in, sharpening your attention for a sequence of jet-engine hums and arpeggiating guitars that melt and morph into a blurry choir, which recedes into a fade full of things you can’t quite grasp. You might listen a few times before starting to wonder what this piece of music has to do with Gregorio Allegri’s setting of the 51st Psalm, which shares its name. Dig a bit, and you’ll find that the Vatican treated that music like a trade secret for a couple hundred years before a teenaged Mozart transcribed it from memory and shared it around. Step back a bit, and you might wonder how that relates to the preceding piece, “Anna Politkovskaya,” which is named for a principled journalist whose diligent documentation of Russian human-rights abuses in Chechnya earned her brutal assassination in an elevator. Step back a bit more, and you see that the album ends with a burnt-bitter cover of Townes Van Zandt’s “Rake,” a story of cruel comeuppance. Whether you take in the big picture or zero in on the details, A Jurist For Nothing has more to offer you the next time you listen. 

—Bill Meyer