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Lauren Kinsella: In Between Every Line

Ian Patterson By

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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 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."

A central component of All This Talk About is the Ted Hughes poem "Thought-Fox," which Huber and Kinsella improvise around on three separate versions: "Alex and I just kept on playing the poem. Eventually it started to take form and shape, and we had a better grasp of the overall structure. No music was written, it was all improvised, but when you are working with the same text over and over again, certain passages and words start to really come alive." Kinsella has long had a deep love and respect for Hughes' writing. "My mum had a [poet/writer] Sylvia Plath biography floating around years ago," she recalls. "I suppose that's how I really got into Ted Hughes. I love his early nature poems, his poems for children and his letters. I get lost in them."

If the Hughes estate has an opinion on Kinsella's molding of the poet's words, then it's keeping it to itself, but Hughes himself would no doubt have recognized the sincerity of Kinsella's intent. "Whether I am constructing, deconstructing it, borrowing it or joining it with other music, I'm ultimately trying to communicate something through his wonderful prose with the musicians I am playing with and to the listener," says Kinsella. "Hopefully that comes across— a deep respect and love for his poetry."

Kinsella's unconventional improvisational style seems to employ breathing as another articulator. "Breathing is one of the core aspects of my instrument," asserts Kinsella. "It's related to everything I do with the voice. I'll be discovering ways of understanding how to use the breath for the rest of my career, not just for technique but also for improvisation. Everything is linked in one big spider diagram: placements of notes, production of sound, resonance, carrying the energy through a phrase—all of these things are dependent on the breath being used in a proficient way. Your whole body, your back, your limbs, your feet, your face, your skull—they are all involved in some way or another. Even if it's just about awareness of relaxing a certain muscle in your body, all of this awareness and understanding correlates to your sound production.

"I believe singers need to build up a visual representation of what's happening inside their body so they can utilize the breath, the posture, the vocal chords, the empty cavities in which to fill space with sound— basically to play the instrument efficiently. This is my opinion, however. Some of the greatest singers that have lived have had largely untrained voices, and their natural gift is what they made their career from. Each to their own."

Huber came over to London for a series of gigs with Kinsella in the summer of 2012, further cementing their musical alliance, and with a European tour lined up in April—where they'll perform as a duo as well as in larger formats—theirs looks like a musical adventure that has legs to run. "It's gone from strength to strength," says Kinsella. "We collaborate with others, too—dancers and musicians. It's lovely working in a duo and then expanding this to larger group settings."

One of the larger group settings that Kinsella works in is her quintet Thought-Fox, which released its debut recording, My Guess, in 2012, though the band first got together in 2008. "It took a while to get off the ground," admits Kinsella. Nevertheless, the wait has been worth it and perhaps even necessary for the band to attain the level of empathy that clearly resonates between trombonist Colm O'Hara, pianist Tom Gibbs, double bassist Mick Coady, drummer Simon Roth and Kinsella.

"They're all great players and improvisers," says Kinsella, "and we're developing a sound, a way to speak to each other, I guess. I think this is what any jazz group wants to achieve—to build a very strong point of connection in any format, whether playing written or improvised music or improvising over written music."

Kinsella composed all, barring one, of the album's songs and acknowledges that the process of composing is still very much a work in progress. "The more I learn about music, the more the method changes, to be honest. I'm processing a lot of musical information at the moment and am therefore trying to deal with it in a compositional/improvisational/conceptual way. I think when I was writing the material for My Guess, it was the same thing.

"Composition has so many stages," Kinsella expands, "from when you initially conceive the idea about the piece to when the audience leave with a particular feeling after your gig. A great musician told me this last week, and I have been thinking about all the strands from start to finish ever since. And the thing is, a piece is never really finished."
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