For the past few years, Canadian trumpeter Lina Allemano has been moving back and forth between Toronto and Berlin, and has been a lively and active participant and bandleader in these two very different music scenes. She makes her JazzFest Berlin debut as leader on 6 November, with what is effectively the launch concert for the album “Rats & Mice” by her Berlin-based band Ohrenschmaus. Profile by Sebastian Scotney.
Lina Allemano is happy to be back in Berlin after several months since lockdown spent in Canada. She is inspired by the scene in the German capital: “There’s so much more happening and more stuff on the fringes and even just being an artist in Berlin is a whole other feeling: you can just be an artist and nobody questions that.”
The feeling is mutual. The organisers of JazzFest Berlin were bowled over by the quality of her group, and particularly of their new album. As the Artistic Director of the Festival Nadin Deventer says: “Lina’s work here on the Berlin scene drew our attention mainly because of the international improvising power-trio Ohrenschmaus. It was formed in 2017 with the two virtuosic cats Michael Griener on drums and Dan Peter Sundland on bass: Rats & Mice, their debut album was finally released in March this year.”
Lina Allemano has been coming to Berlin regularly for a couple of three-month stints each year since 2013. She loves the scene in Berlin but, as she says, “I wasn’t able emotionally to let go of my Toronto projects.” Notable among them is a quartet, the Lina Allemano 4, which has the same instrumentation as the classic Ornette Coleman quartets, and has been a regular working band since 2005. It has also been developing, growing, becoming more experimental, finding looser musical structures, benefiting from the time Allemano has spent on the European scene.
The wish to reconcile things which normally considered as opposites, to naturally find her way to be just as persuasive at one end of a spectrum as at the other seems to be Lina Allemano’s defining hallmark. For example, it inspired the choices she made of the teachers she wanted to study with. As she explained in a 2014 interview to one of the leading Canadian jazz writers Peter Hum: “With Laurie (Frink, in New York) I wanted to study traditional technique, but with Axel (Dörner, in Berlin) , I wanted to study extended technique. The two approaches balance each other out perfectly for me. I’ve always been interested in finding a way of expressing myself that incorporates both aspects of traditional and extended techniques, a sort of blending of the two.”
That ability to be both a ‘schooled’ player in the North American tradition while also seeking out the sonic possibilities associated with the European free improvisation scene is a rare combination, but one which seems natural to Allemano. As one observer describes her: “a chameleon, able to toggle between contemporary and the ‘far from’ contemporary scenes with ease.”
One musician who has known Allemano well since their student days together is the Toronto-based bassist Andrew Downing. He says of her progression: “Lina’s music has become more personal, more specific to her tastes.” He also notes the change since she has been spending more time in Europe: “She has become more experimental in a sonic way.”
There is nothing dry or academic about the intensely committed and passionate music Allemano is capable of making, and which is much in evidence on the Ohrenschmaus album. Her work has led her to an expansion in the sheer scale of the expressive possibilities available to her. Which perhaps could only have been achieved by Allemano’s resolute quest to cross continents and to reconcile opposites.
I asked a pivotal figure on the Canadian scene, and also a perceptive observer of it, vocalist Sienna Dahlen, to sum up what it is that Lina Allemano brings to her music. Dahlen gave a concise answer, and described what surely is an irresistible and unique combination to be present in one musician: “Skill, grace, vulnerability and conviction.”
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Categories: Feature/Interview (PP)