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Lalo: Half Moon

John Kelman By

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On her self-titled debut, vibraphonist Lalo placed her instrument's inherently ethereal tone in a decidedly more assertive rock stance that nevertheless retained a lyrical elegance. This followup broadens the scope with a larger cast of characters and greater emphasis on atmosphere and composition. Improvisation is an element to be sure, but a less dominant partner to Lalo's detailed sense of structure.

The fact that there's a bassist on only three of the album's nine original compositions means that Lalo's orchestral approach is something less than conventional. That doesn't mean, however, that the sound isn't full; nor should it suggest that there's any less of a pulse. But the approach of drummers Ted Poor and Take Toriyama is generally lighter and more textural.

Still, Toriyama's loose interpretion on "Hands, which features in-tandem soloing from flautist Jack Bashkow and trumpeter Kenny Rampton, gives the piece greater weight. And on "Everyday"—the disc's only trio track—an atmospheric introduction leads into a pop-like theme, with Toriyama and bassist Joshua Davis pursuing more aggressive groove. Like something by The Bad Plus, only more melodic and less clunky, it's also a vehicle for Lalo's most extroverted solo.

"Dreamwalker references mid-1970s Gary Burton releases like Ring (ECM, 1974) and Passengers (ECM, 1977), but with producer Jason Crane's guitar playing closer to Bill Frisell's gentle quirkiness than Pat Metheny's smoother melodicism. Certain production devices—specifically the reverse looping that appears throughout the track—give the brooding piece a more contemporary edge. Equally, Madeline Sturm's bass clarinet meshes with bassist Ivan Sturm's arco to create a rich bottom end. But "Dreamwalker has little to do with the kind of strong soloing you'd find on any Burton disc—it's more concerned with evoking a dark mood through form.

The entire album, in fact, needs to be assessed on its ability to create an air of mystery, an ambience that leans to the dark side, rather than improvisational prowess. Even the aptly titled "Tango for T. Lynn retains a devotion to space that is at times antithetical to the more expected pulse of tango. The rhythm is there, but it's softer and less insistent.

"Adventures of the BQE, an idiosyncratically complex piece, is more curious. Andrew Sherman's off-kilter Fender Rhodes and Toriyama's drums create a more angular backdrop for Lalo's solo, which builds in power until the bottom drops out and it enters more rarefied territory, Lalo's sampled laughter in keeping with its overriding sense of the oblique.

"Waves returns to ECM territory, as does the title track. "Seductive Grace is a duet for Lalo and Crane, although they both overdub additional instruments—including toy piano, glockenspiel, and harmonium—to give the atmospheric piece greater breadth. "Curiosity ends Half Moon on a brighter note, with guest guitarist Lionel Loueke showing just how far you can stretch two chords.

It may be too early to tell if Lalo has lasting vision and a distinctive personal style. But for now this intriguing collection of often tone poem-like songwriting, where form takes precedence over freedom, is well worth checking out.


Track Listing: Dreamwalker; Hands; Everyday; Tango for T. Lynn; Adventures of the BQE; Waves; Half Moon; Seductive Grace; Curiosity.

Personnel: Lalo: vibraphone, prepared piano, wurlitzer, toy piano, glockenspiel; Madeline Sturm: bass clarinet, clarinet; Judson Crane: guitar, optigan, harmonium, vibratone, Ivan Sturm: bass (1, 4); Ted Poor: drums (1), finger cymbal (4), Home Depot drum and cymbal (9); Jack Bashkow: flute, piccolo; Kenny Rampton: trumpet; Nathan Heleine: alto saxophone; Take Toriyama: drum (2, 3, 5, 7); Joshua Davis: bass (3); Andrew Sherman: Fender Rhodes (5); Brad Hubbard: baritone saxophone; Lionel Loueke: guitar (9).

Title: Half Moon | Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: Kadooga Music


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