|Occupying that mid-range between jazz and classical music, Laura Andel is a composer to watch, as much for her audacity as for her conception.
Argentinean-born, she's a woodwind player who first received a degree in tango performance in Buenos Aires, then studied jazz composition and film music in Boston, and has since written for large and small ensembles in Boston, New York, Germany and Venezuela. Cinematic, with swathes of jazz and South American rhythms and quirky orchestral instrumentation, Somnanbulist is a nine-part, 46-minute suite that tries to compress all her influences and studies into a definitive whole.
Disjointed in parts, the ghostly-sounding program music raises the age-old question of how much was actually written and how much improvised by her first-class soloists. With so much happening in this work that depicts a sleepwalker and her dreams, there are times that formalism threatens to outweigh the improvisations. Overall though, the suite manages to resolve as many queries as it raises
By the second track, the Eurocentric conception built on viola, theremin, accordion, electronics and flute meets a heavily rhythmic guitar vamp, an unvarying drum beat, high-pitched strings and harmoniously sonorous bass clarinet and baritone saxophone tones. The sleepwalker's confusion may then be represented by the insect-like buzzing of voice, electronics and viola, succeeded by plunger trombone, vibraphone pressure and honking woodwinds and brass. Vocalist Kyoko Kitamura's voice wiggles, burps, screams and cries in a subsequent outpouring that sounds more like the nightmares of the certifiably insane then someone suffering from repose disquiet.
Soon quasi-classical influences predominate, with very legit-sounding viola glissandos, circling, clicking piano keys and ethereal flute tones. As discordant transitions arise, almost too much happens at the same time. The bass trombonist buzzes through the piece with a jet-plane-like drone, the accordionist introduces an expansive tango rhythm manipulating the squeezebox bellows back and forth to maximum expansion. Whistling cuts through all this as the drummer introduces splashing jazz rhythms with echoing percussion lines. Eventually the motif is tossed from one instrument group to the next encompassing muted brass, Sam Furnace's honking and slurring baritone saxophone and vibes-accordion counterpoint, until it lands in Oscar Noriega subterranean bass clarinet.
Rubbed drum heads introduce overblown saxophone slipsiding and brass flurries, as the vocalized breaths sustain throughout this section, while the strings buzz like worker bees, the accordion squeezes discordantly, the clarinet reed shrieks and the distinctive wavering theremin modulations suggest the cosmos.
Finally, as the horns advance a vaguely far-eastern theme on top of ghostly piano chords, a single triangle peal sounds sharply, as if it is an alarm clock bell rousing the sleeper from slumber. Kitamura's mumbling and murmuring imply the sleepwalker has awakened; though instrumental voices such as high intensity piano tremolos from Ursel Schlicht suggest that the potential for other nocturnal experiences still exist.
From a slightly earlier session featuring a different group and vocalist, the penultimate and final tracks offer small-scale versions of Andel's preoccupations. With the same mixture of influences and performed in a similar manner, the orchestral condensation merely extend what has gone before.
It will be interesting to see what else Andel can do with her fecund musical imagination. If future releases are as notable as this one -- and she recruits as sympathetic improvisers -- she'll be definitely move from the promising to the consummate composer category.
-- Ken Waxman