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Dustin LindenSmith

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concert review: Lina Allemano Quartet

overview
A modern jazz quartet performing at Stayner's Wharf during the 2005 Atlantic Jazz Festival in Halifax. Comprised of 4 young tigers on the Toronto jazz scene, each hailing from different parts of Canada, I believe.

personnel
-- Lina Allemano, trumpet (home page / audio)
-- Brodie West, alto sax (photo)
-- Andrew Downing, acoustic bass (bio / audio)
-- Nick Fraser, drums

opening thoughts
Mmm, these chickens were hot. Their repertoire came mainly from the traditional hard bop period (e.g. Perdido and Thelonious Monk's Evidence (which is itself based on the changes to an old 30s pop classic Just You Just Me)), but they did not, by any stretch of the imagination, play traditional bop solos over them. These dogs are totally fresh, and they did such amazing shit with the time, beats, and melodies that they held my undivided attention for the entire 70-minute set.

Yeah, I just have to say one more time that these kids have a truly devastating command of the time. And while it would be remiss not to make note of the obvious influence of that classic early 60s Miles Davis Quintet on this group (the one with Wayne Shorter on tenor sax, Herbie Hancock on piano, Ron Carter on the acoustic bass and Tony Williams on drums), what they do is entirely their own thing. They listen to each other completely, and they really interplay throughout every tune. It was one of the most authentic expressions of true jazz improvisation I've heard in a long time.

first impressions
Lina is a petite blonde who reminds me in appearance of the cute chick that used to sit behind me in my 8th-grade band class. The trumpet looks a bit too big for her and before you hear her play, you wonder if she has enough air to get a good sound out of the instrument. Watching her walk on stage, I noticed a muted but noticeable self-confidence in her. Her posture was straight, her eyes were bright, and her jeans: just enough tight. ;)

Brodie West is an odd-looking cat when you see him for the first time. He looks somehow as though he's just been transported here from the 1950s. He wears tinted glasses with thick rectangular plastic frames, and he sports an almost cartoonish round nose with the soft cheeks of a young boy. His posture when he plays is erect yet birdlike; he weaves in and out as though he were pecking in the dirt for corn. When he's not playing, he jitters around the stage like a wind-up toy. Completely absorbed in the music, he smiles and often laughs out loud when he hears something he likes from the other musicians.

Nick Fraser is the hottie in the group. He's the great-looking tall guy on the drums, utterly comfortable and at ease with his surroundings, probably approached by at least one or two girls after every gig. His pleasure at playing is also evident by looking at him: he makes frequent eye contact with all the musicians and smiles widely at them when he digs what's going on. He's also incredibly warm and friendly in person, so it seems like he's one of those bastards who's just got it all goin' on.

Andrew Downing looks like the elder statesman of the group, even though he's not much older than these cats if at all. He's a heavily-experienced bassist though, and an all-around great guy and super player. (I do, however, find his website to be cloying in its abundance of Flash, which also makes it quite slow to load.)

musical impressions
They opened with an unaccompanied duet between Lina on trumpet and Brodie on alto. Through small melodic and harmonic clues, it sounded like they were blowing on the changes to Perdido. It turns out that they were indeed playing that tune, but that didn't become totally obvious until much later. In the meantime, they completely deconstructed the form and the melody of the composition through improvised solos and group play.

Lina's sound on the trumpet is warm and mellow. In the low range, it sounds like she's playing a fluegelhorn or a French horn, it's so smooth. She seldom ventures to the higher registers, but the listener is not ill-served by that: instead, we were treated to an exploration of  every possible nuance available in the middle and lower registers of the trumpet. She's really a pure pleasure to watch and listen to. She's also unexpectedly funny on the mic between tunes. I laughed out loud at a bunch of quick ad-libs she threw out to people in the audience. When I met her between sets, she was very friendly and bestowed several of her beautiful smiles on me. I couldn't meet her eyes too often, though: they were so deep and lush that I felt like I might fall into them if I gazed at them for too long.

Brodie West's sound on the alto is disarmingly sweet. In the lower register, it sounds like he's playing subtone on a tenor sax. His tone is pure black velvet and silk; warm but never fuzzy, enveloping but never thick. And by God, the shit that he plays, the shit that he plays... He's just a fucking monster, is all I have to say about Brodie West. He's heard everything, he hears everything, and he can play anything. But he never rips anything off from anyone: his phrasing is completely original and entirely engrossing. I was literally riveted to him whenever he played, rejoicing in his elastic time feel and his absolutely gorgeous running melody lines through the changes. Had Brodie actually played in the 1950s like his appearance would suggest, he would undoubtedly have become a bebop titan. But I'm much more grateful to have him with us today. He represents that unique and impossible synthesis of strong roots to the past with truly original playing today. I just can't say enough about this kid, I think he's a fantastic musician and will go all the way.

Nick and Andrew played together beautifully all night. In every tune and in every solo, they explored new versions of the beat and the time, superimposing a slower 3/4 over a fast 4/4 beat, or chopping up other odd-over-even / even-over-odd combinations that create the lush and varied rhythmic context over which modern soloists SO love to play over. These two were like a dream rhythm section, really. I think they'd help to make anyone sound good, and they swung their asses off all the time. And I'd probably even go so far as to say that their playing transcended the standard fare offered by many rhythm sections: they didn't just lay down a good groove for the soloists, they played with all members of the band to create a unified, cohesive group sound. The overall texture of the band was just great.

last word
Obviously I loved this show and I'm very glad that I went. I just think it's funny because in my mind, they really kicked the Yellowjackets' asses out there, too. The Yellowjackets is the name of one of the big headline jazz/funk/fusion acts that played on the main stage earlier last night. I took my wife to that show, but we ended up leaving early because we got kind of bored. Now I'm doubly glad that we did so that I didn't miss Lina's first set.
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