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  • Glenn Siegel

Burgeoning Composer in Action: Ingrid Laubrock's Lilith

“During the last decade saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock has been steadily expanding her reach as a composer, devising new ways to inspire, organize and situate improvised music”, writes Peter Margasak in the liner notes to Laubrock’s most recent recording, Monochromes. Margasak’s point was beautifully illustrated for 60 intent listeners who filled the Perch at Hawks & Reed on March 14. The 53 year old German tenor and soprano saxophonist brought Lilith, her sextet of promising younger musicians to Greenfield for a set of highly charged originals.


On stage behind Lilith was a dramatic set design for Gorgons, a play produced by Human Agenda Theater that was between weekend performances. Giant paper mache forms were attached to the walls, interspersed with sculpted human figures and enigmatic equations written in chalk. I think the set’s baffling effect improved the sound quality while reinforcing the additive quality that comes with combining different art forms. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if musicians could consistently play in theaters after closing night, before sets were struck?


The music flowed from piece to piece, all unnamed and played without pause, in a suite-like trance lasting about 75 minutes. The compositional frames Laubrock built were sturdy, with open floor plans, allowing the band: Yvonne Rogers (piano), Dave Adewumi (trumpet), Adam Matlock (accordion), Eva Lawitts (bass) and Henry Mermer (drums), plenty of room to stretch their improvising chops, which were considerable.


Some of her pieces featured tricky heads at quick tempos; others unfolded as slowly as dawn, with elegant melodies emerging through an expanse of open time. Laubrock’s burgeoning reputation as a composer has been confirmed in recent years. Her piece, Vogelfrei, was nominated 'one of the best 25 Classical tracks of 2018' by The New York Times. She won the Herb Alpert/Ragdale Prize in Composition 2019, and has received a slew of composing commissions from the BBC Glasgow Symphony Orchestra, Bang on The Can, American Composers Orchestra, Tricentric Foundation, SWR New Jazz Meeting, Wet Ink, and the EOS Orchestra, among other organizations.


Her writing gave form to the improvisations, which were played by individuals or by groups of two or three. The applause after most solos gave the proceedings a jazz feel despite the new music vibe that permeated the evening. Matlock, who studied with Margaux Simmons at Hampshire College, had a particularly mesmerizing unaccompanied solo full of stuttering bursts of air amid pastoral fragments of melody. His work throughout anchored the music, and the unique sonority of his instrument lent the music a folkish, old world feel. Roger’s delicate approach to the piano had a jewel-like quality that was interrupted by a welcome foray of force on her one extended solo. Like all her bandmates, she had a very sophisticated understanding of harmony and rhythm.


Lilith came together last year at the behest of jazzahead!, a large, annual festival and trade fair in Bremen. Germany, who asked Laubrock to put together a new ensemble. She knew trumpeter Dave Adewumi from Jason Moran’s Harlem Hellfighter’s project, and the two horns created a strong front line that sparred playfully and delivered punchy lines in unison. An up and comer, Adewumi was awarded 1st prize in the Carmine Caruso International Jazz Trumpet Competition in 2019, and can be found on recordings by Dave Douglas and Remy Le Boeuf.

The rhythm team of Lawitts and Mermer rooted the band, providing both textural depth and a flexible swing feel. Everyone in the ensemble were crack musicians who could read and interpret, adding their personal voice to Laubrock’s complex compositions. By the time they perform, and then record this work at Firehouse 12 in New Haven two days hence, we should have another fully formed statement of consequence from Ingrid Laubrock. 

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