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Ingrid Laubrock with Liam Noble & Tom Rainey: Sleepthief

Chris May By

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Listen, this is true. With Sleepthief, Ingrid Laubrock—since mid decade amongst the most interesting saxophonists and bandleaders on the British scene—has made an album so exceptional that it positions the German-born, London-based player as perhaps the most daring and exciting saxophonist anywhere in the world in 2008. It really is that extraordinary—and momentous—a release.



Wholly improvised, with no preconceived tunes, no overdubs, no post-production and no edits, and with the tracks sequenced in pretty much the same order they were recorded, the process of music-making is audacious. It is also brilliantly realized. In British pianist Liam Noble and American drummer Tom Rainey, Laubrock has found the perfect partners—restlessly inventive, provocative, deep, infinitely nuanced, spontaneously architectural.



It gets even better. As gripping as the playing of the trio are the sounds Laubrock coaxes from her saxophones. Forensic examination of the sonic nooks and crannies of her instruments has since the mid-2000s been a trademark of Laubrock's live performances, but—as she hasn't released a disc since 2006, or one including tenor since 2004—Sleepthief is the first album to present this aspect of her playing in its maturity.



If you haven't heard Laubrock live during the last couple of years, you're in for a revelation. Here, on tenor and soprano, she is writing what amount to new dialects, if not full-blown languages, for her instruments. The visceral low-register phrases evoking bar-walking tenor players from an earlier age, and the precisely articulated high harmonics, are present as before, as are more conventionally played passages. But they're joined by a raft of new sounds and textures, some caressing, others disturbing, lyrical dream weavings and rude awakenings, which turn the saxophone inside out. To play like this requires wild imagination and extreme technical virtuosity, qualities Laubrock has in abundance.



A player who has come a very long way in a relatively short time, Laubrock's recording career began conventionally enough with Who Is It? (Candid, 1997), before moving into fresh minted territory two albums later with Forensic (F-ire, 2004). The album marked her emergence as a composer and bandleader of character, and with Barry Green and Sebastian Rochford replacing original pianist Karim Merchant and drummer Tom Skinner, the band was the most consistently thrilling live outfit on the British circuit in 2005/06—even if Rochford's Polar Bear, with whom Laubrock guested on Held On The Tips Of Fingers (Babel, 2005), picked up more column inches.



With her next disc, Let's Call This... (Babel, 2006), a series of duets with Noble, Laubrock looked both forwards and backwards, setting original tunes alongside pieces by Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, Duke Ellington and Lee Konitz. It felt at the time like she was taking stock, before the next leap forward.



And what a remarkable leap Sleepthief proves to be. 2008 has been a great year for saxophones. In the spring, tenor player Michael Adkins conjured his own sonic magic on Rotator (Hat Hut, 2008). Come the autumn, and Laubrock—enabled by Noble and Rainey (whose individual contributions deserve more attention than space permits)—has taken a quantum step which overshadows everything that came before it. Prepare for your paradigms to be shifted.


Track Listing: Zugunruhe; Sleepthief; Oofy Twerp; Never Were Not; Environmental Stud; The Ears Have It; Batchelor's Know How; Social Cheats; Amelie.

Personnel: Ingrid Laubrock: tenor and soprano saxophone, piano (9); Liam Noble: piano; Tom Rainey: drums.

Title: Sleepthief | Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: Intakt Records

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