Lina Allemano’s quartet has had the same personnel since 2005 when her musical direction moved to freer climes, with Brodie West on alto saxophone. Since then, it’s served as a vehicle for Allemano’s development as both improviser and composer, revealing a gift for counterpoint and orchestration that makes creative use of bassist Andrew Downing and drummer Nick Fraser beyond typical rhythm section roles. The opening Banana Canon, the first of three independent compositions, is a minimalist theme, at once playful and slightly querulous, that immediately establishes the group’s distinctive personality.
The rest of the CD is devoted to a suite called Plague Diaries, composed by Allemano in Toronto during the first months of the COVID-19 lockdown. Each of the four movements is introduced by a stark unaccompanied solo, emphasizing the sense of isolation. If studies with Axel Dörner have contributed to Allemano’s development as a keen explorer of the trumpet’s secret sonic resources, her Berlin residencies may have also offered a compositional resource for the suite. Part III: Hunger and Murder, starting with a gritty arco solo from Downing, suggests the grim, desiccated 1930s work of composer Hanns Eisler. Further, the concluding Doom and Doomer, propelled by Fraser’s willfully chaotic drum solo, develops a rapid, circulating pattern against which Allemano improvises brilliantly, her solo suggesting one trapped in a labyrinth.
There’s a consistent, collective creativity here, at once urgent and coherent, that marks this as one of the year’s most significant jazz recordings.