Before the pandemic, Lina Allemano spent as much time in Berlin as in her homebase of Toronto. Both locales have been productive for the trumpeter, with a number of bands in each city. Last year she released two vastly different discs, one with her German power trio Ohrenschmaus, the other an adventurous solo trumpet album. The double-release streak continues with the return of her longstanding quartet and a collaboration that draws heavily on live sound processing. Both reveal the complexity of a musician whose prolific output is long overdue for more attention.
Vegetables features Allemano in the company of alto saxophonist Brodie West, bassist Andrew Downing, and drummer Nick Fraser. A comparison could be made to Ornette Coleman’s early quartet, but Allemano’s writing has more rhythmic and melodic contours, similar in some ways to more playful works by AACM composers. Frequently, the lines between free introductions and themes get blurred, and the quartet doesn’t always feel the need to restate the head at the close of a track.
The trumpet and alto, panned to separate speakers, interact with one another, easily slipping from unison into delayed echoes of each other’s lines. Even when they seem to joust, with one adding gruff comments behind the other’s solo, this elevates the performance rather than making it sound cluttered. Allemano is especially skilled at going from bright blasts to dirty growls in tracks like “Beans.” At times, West’s lithe upper register could be mistaken for a soprano, and he displays a technique that creates some frenzy without resorting to full-blown shrieks. Downing and Fraser liven up the often angular portions of the writing, straddling bowed passages and powerful fills, respectively.
BLOOP feels a bit like a solo project, but Mike Smith receives equal billing for electronically processing the trumpeter’s performance as it happens, alternately extending and distorting sounds so they take on a greater dimension. Such an approach could cause a performer to get lost in the variety of technical tricks, but Allemano never gives in to indulgence. For every set of guttural shrieks that she emits in “Recanting” or “The Summoning,” there’s a delicate ballad like “Oracle of Chanterelle,” full of rich long tones that echo back at her. At times like this, Proof recalls similar works by Wadada Leo Smith, where simple, direct lines are heavy with lyricism and emotion, and Smith’s processes make her sound like a brass choir. Elsewhere, he creates a sonic hall of mirrors, taking her whistles and mouthpiece squirts and turning them into an eerie mélange that wouldn’t be out of place in some sci-fi soundtrack (“The Nestlings (Metamorphosis)”). This and a few other tracks might be unsettling, but it’s intriguing to hear where the duo ultimately takes the sound.