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Monday, December 11, 2023

Lina Allemano - Canons (Lumo Records, 2023)

By Stef Gijssels

I will not write a full review of this album, as this has already been done by Sammy Stein, but just a short appreciation for the music, and some insights that I received from Lina Allemano herself. 

At first listen, the listener will be surprised by the form of the music, namely the use of the medieval "canon", a compositional technique that uses counterpoint and thematic repetition with a specified time delay, resulting in superimposing different voices creating a kind of sonic fabric of interweaving phrases. 

We have reviewed the influence of medieval music before in modern jazz 

Several albums also were directly influenced by composers such as Josquin Deprez (1450-1525), Guillaume de Machaut (1300), and several others (check our Search function). 

Already on Allemano's "Proof", the medieval influence was noticeable, but now she makes it the focus of the album. 

The power of this albums is that it expands it into a kind of special level of ear candy, nothing pretentious or too ambitious, but playful, solemn, fun, surprising and interesting. More poetic than epic, with the right balance between composition and improvisation. 

Here are Allemano's responses to my medieval references:

"Mostly I was just composing canons purely for fun and as a way to amuse and challenge myself - maybe other people would play Wordle or Sudoku for the same reasons…? I had no intention of them sounding like anything in particular but I think the very nature of the polyphonic compositional technique lends itself to sound a certain way, and of course that will reflect historical polyphonic music. I haven’t studied the music formally but I do spend a fair amount of time listening to contrapuntal and polyphonic music (mostly Bach piano works)". 

For her grant application, Allemano submitted the following description. 

"The Canon form is of course not new, but it is fairly new for me as a composer. I’ve always admired canons for the musical workmanship required to write one, but rarely tried to create my own as it's not a traditional form commonly used in my area of work. With my canons, I will not try to recreate the methods, goals or musical effects of traditional canons, but rather use the form in my own artistic context to create something new - for example: atonal canons, canons that reflect my own aesthetics of 'melody', canons that incorporate improvisation, etc. My prior compositional approach was to conceive of melodies and whole pieces in their entirety, making small adjustments only afterwards and then making further adjustments during collaborative development with my bands. With canons however, one must take an entirely different approach as a composer, as the ‘melody’ or line is the entire piece in itself and it must weave together with itself, displaced 2, 3, or 4 times, in some sort of logical/interesting way. I find this compositional approach to be fascinating and almost like some sort of musical chess game that develops slowly and incrementally as it goes, note by note. Each next note chosen in turn creates new meaning as it is stacked upon itself, displaced in the different voices. My aim with these canons is to essentially create through-composed pieces that also contain improvisation. The improvisations weave in with the canon to create an interesting effect: composed & improvised worlds meet & meld together. The listener at times detects the symmetry of the canon, perhaps only subconsciously, but it inherently creates a strong musical form. This is a departure for me as a composer, as I normally attempt to blur the line between composition and improvisation based on a compositional approach from the ‘song form’ tradition: short melodies with harmony and repeating form, along with collaborative input from band members."

And so is the music: smart, intellectually playful, with a compact aesthetic. In short ear candy? 

Listen and download from Bandcamp