Trumpeter Lina Allemano
is one of those artists whose boundless creativity requires numerous outlets for its adequate expression. Her Ohrenschmaus trio is a hard-driving unit that possesses a tenacious energy but somehow leaves room for adventitious excursions. The group's Rats and Mice
(Lumo Records) was one of 2020's most intriguing releases. She's also an intrepid innovator on her instrument, particularly renowned for using a range of mutes that expand the options available for her artistry, heard to fine effect on her solo release, Glimmer Glammer
(Lumo, 2019). And she's an unfailingly sympathetic colleague; witness her work on Proof
(Lumo, 2021), a joint effort with electronic improviser Mike Smith
, which highlights her uncanny listening ability as she and Smith respond almost telepathically to each other's gestures. But Allemano's longest-lasting project has been her eponymous quartet, as the Lina Allemano Four has served as the ideal vehicle for her unique musical vision since 2003.
, the group's latest, Allemano's knack for writing crafty pieces that obviate the distinctions between composition and improvisation is fully evidentas is her keen understanding of how to channel the skills of her bandmates. Saxophonist Brodie West
, bassist Andrew Downing
and drummer Nick Fraser
have worked with Allemano in this ensemble since 2005, and it shows, as each brings an intuitive mastery of Allemano's concept, enabling the group's collective result truly to exceed the sum of its parts.
The album's opener, "Onions," presents a bait-and-switch of sorts, as a perky riff reminiscent of Dizzy Gillespie
's "Salt Peanuts" opens the track, but it quickly becomes clear that a head-solo-head approach isn't at all in the cards. Indeed, Allemano's writing trends sharply away from this conventional jazz cliché, as she's much more interested in seeing how the mutual interactions that unfold in each piece help shape it into something distinctive. The outcome is never where one expects to find it. Preparing for surprising detours and digressions is critically necessary for appreciating Allemano's music. Instead of revisiting the opening theme, "Onions" takes a number of twists and turns through a feisty group improvisation that somehow holds together despite its occasional centrifugal tendencies, finally ending with a tightly constructed sequence of descending phrases from West and Allemano that bring the piece to a brisk conclusion.
It's hard to determine if there's a logic to the song titles aside from their connection to the album's horticultural theme, but each does add its own flavor to the mix. "Beans" is built around short, clipped phrases from all four musicians, with Downing and Fraser especially noteworthy in jettisoning the role of "rhythm section," aiming instead for well-placed contributions that merge wonderfully with those from West and Allemano. The pulse remains present, but it's a refracted one, bending as the piece develops rather than straightjacketing the music with fixed time.
"Champignons" has a different feel entirely, with an understated lyricism at its core, proof that for all of her maverick tendencies, Allemano is not without her occasional melodic charms. Even so, the group's prevailing ethos remains one in which the magic is discovered more obliquely, through the course of the conversation itself. "Leafy Greens," the album's closer, embodies this well, as somber abstraction and a fleeting theme carry the track into a funky midsection, only then to recede as the group turns back upon itself, to find its purpose once more through the subtle and elusive exchanges that make up the bulk of this delightful release.
Onions; Beans; Champignons; Brussel Sprouts, Maybe Cabbage; Oh Avocado; Leafy Greens.