Listening to Lauren Newton sing is like listening to Cathy Berberian, Ella Fitzgerald, and Yoko Ono, if someone cut up tapes of these three and mixed them together in small bits without transition. She is an abstract expressionist singer, working in the realm of pure sound with a voice that is pure in its beauty and startling in the things she'll choose to do with it. Her ability to blend her voice with instrumental sounds is uncanny, and led her to a long tenure as a vocalist with the Vienna Art Orchestra.
This disc was recorded in 1982. Newton is still very much active - not long ago Anthony Braxton released his Composition 192 on Leo, a CD-long duet with Newton - but Timbre demonstrates that the primary elements of her art were in place sixteen years ago or more. She fronts a quartet here, including David Friedman on vibes, Thomas Stabenow on bass, and Manfred Kniel on drums.
Newton has some rewarding exchanges with Kniel and the restrained, classically-inflected Stabenow, but her chief foil is Friedman, who can play the vibes like Bobby Hutcherson or build shimmering atmospheric runways for Newton's takeoffs. When Friedman solos - as he does impressively on the funky middle section of "Early Piece" and soulfully on "Filigree" - the music sounds jazzy. When Newton enters, it usually goes in different directions, although toward the beginning of "Timbre" and here and there ("Who's Blue," which really does have a bluesy feel) she even sounds a little bit like Ella.
Newton is a beguiling singer of melodies. "Timbre," "Filigree" and "Early Piece" are full of simply beautiful moments. In "Conversations" and "Run of the Mill" she explores the tonalities of spoken speech, wordlessly capturing the inflections of dialogues running from the slyly insinuating to the heated. At the beginning of "Run of the Mill" she creaks and croaks like a Central Asian. On "Cross Rhythms" she sounds like an instructor on a French exercise tape, scatting over Kniel's big beat.
All in all, an unpredictable set of impeccably delivered vocalise, impressive in its range of moods and textures.