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Lauren Kinsella: In Between Every Line

By Published: March 5, 2013
In Kinsella's poetry-inspired improvisations, sounds and rhythm flow in a stream of consciousness where flashes of lyrics are deconstructed and, in the same breath, fashioned as syllabic and non-syllabic flights of sound. In a review of Thought-Fox's performance at the 2012 Guinness Cork Jazz Festival, Alan O'Riordan of described Kinsella as sounding "at times like Bjork singing backwards." In his colorful description, O'Riordan certainly captured one truth, and that is that Kinsella doesn't really sound like anyone singing forwards.

As Kinsella explains, the road to her very personal improvisational style has been a combination of freedom in self-expression and guidance in how to achieve that. "I think as I evolve as a person, my style is becoming more about who I am," asserts Kinsella. "I had the great fortune of having important mentors along the way who steered me towards finding myself and my own space—spending time with Lauren Newton or Sheila McCarthy, a great classical teacher in Dublin, and then pinpointing myself what I needed to explore to develop my sound."

Kinsella is the first to admit that she didn't dive in at the deep end as a composer or with a well-defined improvisational idiom. "Like most singers, I just started singing the standards," she relates. "I love singing standards, and I'll never stop singing them, but I've probably used them more as a technique to develop my instrument rather than really exploring that material as a performer." Kinsella has a healthy respect for more conventional singers' ability to carry a song with a melody: "When I first started really listening to female singers like Joni Mitchell
Joni Mitchell
Joni Mitchell
and Joan Baez and all these folk singers, I fell in love with their ability to carry songs that really meant something."

For Kinsella, the melody and rhythm of language capture her imagination, whether it springs from the printed page or from her travels: "Whenever I spend time traveling, in India or Sweden or Switzerland, I pick up something I like from those places. For example, I love how people talk in Scandinavia—the sound of the language. I like looking at the language and saying it out loud, even though I don't understand it."

It was during a trip to Switzerland that Kinsella met drummer Alex Huber, while she was on a scholarship to the renowned International Association of Schools of Jazz , where saxophonist Dave Liebman
Dave Liebman
Dave Liebman
was running a week- long course. The IASJ has been held in a different country every year since 1990, and about 70 students from every which place attend and participate in workshops and attend tutorials where they present their tunes.

Kinsella picks up the story: "On the first day, everybody has to play a tune; it's like a jam, and then they put you into groups. Out of all the people there, as soon as I heard Alex I thought, 'Holy shit, this guy's good. I need to play with him.' I knew instantly that I needed to create with this person. Oddly enough, we got put in the same group, and we just played in a kind of big band for a week, and it was fun. It was fairly fixed—head-solos-head-type stuff. We knew we liked playing together, and we decided to get together again. It just kind of stemmed from there."

Huber was living in Berlin at the time, and Kinsella wasted little time in going there to rehearse and gig together. "We started working as a duo in a completely free context, and that's what we've been doing since," says Kinsella. "At the time, he was starting this record label, Wide Ear Records with some other guys, and we went into a studio just for a day and came out with All This Talk About."

It's hard to think of many examples of singer/drummer duos, but for Kinsella there was nothing unusual about the collaboration at all. "It was a very natural thing," she explains. "We never thought about it as being something unusual. We just needed to do something together. It was literally that simple."

The empathy between the two musicians on All This Talk About is pronounced. "I guess we have so much to say to each other," says Kinsella. "I am interested in how he communicates. He listens, reacts and responds so fluidly. We discuss improvisational concepts, what our habits are and how to break them, how to free ourselves from what we know and to really get into new areas of communication—the merging of ideas together and sticking with them to see what happens next. It's fascinating, actually."

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