Allison Au’s Migrations is a vibrant sonic landscape with ebbs and flows inspired by transitions through physical landscape. Described in the liner notes as a long-due creative articulation of personal history and identity, this undertaking succeeds in a profound, inspiring, thought-provoking way. Central to this triumph is the depth, versatility and range of the ensemble itself.
Au’s own jazz combo is accompanied by string quartet, Michael Davidson on vibraphone and the expressive vocals of Laila Biali. This instrumentation unlocks a spectrum of prismatic mood and texture, with the brightness of the strings crackling over an undercurrent of spellbinding harmonies. Biali not only faithfully conveys the weight of her words during the expertly paced spoken word sections, but she shines as a primary melodic instrument in tandem with Au’s saxophone, particularly on pieces like Them.
As a suite, Migrations’ sense of interconnectedness does not feel contrived. Rather than flowing into each other directly with manufactured studio transitions, there are brief pauses between movements. This allows each scene ample time to remark on the previous, while organically creating forward momentum that complements the album’s central text and themes. Racing Across the Land feels like a direct continuation of where Aves Raras ended up in terms of its pace, but from the utterance of “long after you are gone…” the throughline grows beyond what is outwardly stated, allowing for a retrospective plunge into the metanarrative properties of sound.