When a jazz group can maintain a steady lineup for several years, it establishes a strong level of trust among the musicians. The Lina Allemano Four has lasted eight years, a rarity for an improvising band, and that time has seen the band develop a strong onstage rapport.
"We started out being a little more — I don't know if you'd call it straight ahead, but the compositions I was writing back then were a little less open," says Toronto-based trumpeter Allemano, speaking with CP from her home. Then, "I started realizing I can write specifically for these guys, to their strengths. Now I write these tunes that are almost like sketches. It's totally open."
The instrumentation features trumpet, alto saxophone, bass and drums. While it mirrors the lineup of Ornette Coleman's classic quartet, which abandoned chord structures for a style that introduced the term "free jazz," Allemano's music has more expansive melodic qualities.
"I've always really been drawn to melody and bass players, I guess," she says. "A lot of bass players are melodic, too. I think that's why I started to get into that sort of sound: horns and bass and drums.
"The melody is so strong and there's a huge open area that's not getting — I was going to say ‘cluttered,' but that's very negative. I don't mean to say that chordal instruments are cluttered. There was something I really liked about having that openness of horns and just the bass underpinning things. And also it seems really nice to switch around roles that way too. A bass player could be melodic; the horns could be accompanying it."
On last year's Live at the Tranzac, the group experiments with time and dynamics successfully. "Flummox" begins with a steady tempo which gradually gets pulled apart as Allemano and saxophonist Brodie West solo, eventually snapping back into place for the closing statement. "Atomic Number 22" begins with a heavy, bowed bass line from Andrew Downing that makes the melody comes off like a hard-rock riff. In a later section of the tense piece, the volume drops down, with Downing sounding like a cellist and the horns holding some soft, long tones. Rather than closing the song, it continues at this level, creating suspense before the final resolution.
The quartet's staying power means that the sound and shape of a tune can vary from any given performance. "Sometimes they set up a little groove with some of the stuff, sometimes not," Allemano says of the band. "Sometimes it stays free, sometimes it goes in and out. I like that I never know how it's going to go. [So I'll wonder,] is this going to be a groovy rendition or not."
Intrigued jazz fans might be interested to know that the Allemano Four's local performance will be presented in connection with the Space Exchange series at the Thunderbird Café. Like the weekly showcase of local music projects, this show has no cover charge.