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Lina Allemano Four: Pipe Dream

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Lina Allemano Four: Pipe Dream
Recorded in the winter of 2021 during the heart of the COVID pandemic, it is understandable that Pipe Dream, the latest offering from the Lina Allemano Four, has an air of ominous foreboding. Indeed, much of the album is devoted to the "Plague Diaries," a suite inspired by some of the darker themes of that period (with song titles like "Hunger and Murder" and "Doom and Doomer" giving an indication of what is in store). But like all of Allemano's projects, the fearless trumpeter lets her crafty compositions find pathways toward illumination and wonder, assisted by the talented members of her long-standing quartet.

Coming on the heels of its 2021 predecessor, Vegetables (Lumo Records), Pipe Dream sticks with Allemano's predilection for writing music that combines classical rigor with improvisatory opportunity. The chamber-like aesthetic of the group is due in no small part to bassist Andrew Downing, whose arco playing allows his instrument to lend harmonic heft to the music, with parts that often intertwine with those of Allemano and alto saxophonist Brodie West, giving the group the feel of a larger ensemble. And then there is drummer Nick Fraser, who brings a forceful presence to much of the album but always does so in close conversation with the others. The result is a quartet of equals, with an emphasis on collective music-making rather than tunes that serve merely as vehicles for flashy solos.

"Banana Canon," the album's opener, is an ingenious piece built around overlapping phrases from Allemano, Downing and West that almost imperceptibly cohere into a larger whole. Although Allemano is not without a lyrical sensibility, the piece gains its appeal not principally through overt melody but via the calibrated interactions of the group members, each of whose role is vital—Fraser no less than the others, limiting himself to color and texture until the piece's conclusion, at which point a firmer groove takes shape, the group bringing the music to full boil with an almost manic intensity. "Pipe Dream (on Prokofiev Theme)" and "Dragon Fruit" are similarly enigmatic, with elusive themes that ride along an undercurrent of menace. Moments of collective improvisation are woven through the composed sections, creating music that paradoxically sounds simultaneously disciplined and free. If the concept of "chamber jazz" tends to be (mis)characterized as one in which classical formalism outweighs spontaneous creativity, Allemano's approach offers plenty of evidence to the contrary.

"The Plague Diaries" suite has four main sections, each of which is introduced by a different member of the ensemble. Here too, it is in the see-sawing between structure and freedom that the music finds its energy and character. The ironically-titled "Trying Not to Freak Out" presents this dynamic vividly, as the group defines general parameters that it then attempts to break out of, as order continually threatens to devolve into chaos. While chaos never quite triumphs, there is no question that there is an excitement that builds as the group sees just how far it can go. While the entire suite is stimulating, those moments of barely-controlled cacophony are perhaps the most fitting in capturing the madness of the pandemic years. The last part of the suite, "Doom and Doomer," is a case in point. Fueled by Fraser's frantic solo intro, the group dives headlong into the void with its most sustained intensity, not to wallow in despair but instead to display a feisty, even inspiring, resilience.

Track Listing

Banana Canon; Pipe Dream (on Prokofiev theme); Dragon Fruit; Plague Diaries: Intro: Longing; Longing; Intro: Trying Not to Freak Out; Trying Not to Freak Out; Intro: Hunger and Murder; Hunger and Murder; Doom and Doomer.

Personnel

Album information

Title: Pipe Dream | Year Released: 2023 | Record Label: Lumo Records


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