Interview with Canadian trumpeter LINA ALLEMANO

LINA ALLEMANO is a Canadian trumpeter, improviser, and prolific composer with an active international career, performing and recording cutting-edge contemporary music primarily in experimental, conceptual, improvised and jazz settings, but also working in a wide array of other genres. Born and raised in Edmonton Alberta, Allemano moved to Toronto in 1993. She is educated in both classical and jazz trumpet and specializes in extended technique on her instrument. Allemano now splits her time between the music scenes in TORONTO and BERLIN, and she runs her own internationally-acclaimed record label LUMO RECORDS. (taken from the bio on her website)

Lina is a very profelic musician indeed, with a lot of imagination and a versalite portfolio of composed and improvised music. Her music is always engaging to the listener. We enjoy every direction she goes, be it with Lina Allemano Four, Bloop, Ohrenschmaus, Titanium Riot or solo. Time for an introduction to the uninitiated and some information on her most recent works: 'Vegetables' and 'Proof' (as Bloop)'.

Your most recent published work are the cd's 'Vegetables' and 'Proof'. How did you come to the idea to create music inspired by vegetables? And what came first: the choice of vegetable or the music?

'This might be disappointing, but actually the vegetable idea came long after the fact. When I wrote the music, I delayed with deciding on titles for the pieces - at first they were simply a numbered series of pieces, numbered in sequence of when they were written and in which location (ie; Berlin 1-6). As time went on and we performed the pieces more and more, it somehow became more and more difficult to find actual titles. At the recording session, I asked for title ideas from the band members… I was looking for a themed idea that could work as a series… and someone came up with vegetables purely as a joke, but we laughed so hard for the rest of the session that I decided it was a fun idea. Pure silliness! I think the lesson I learned was: it’s probably best to title your compositions immediately or else you might end up with vegetables!'

With BLOOP - 'Proof' you walk a very different path. What inspired you to create an album of yourself in combination with electronic processing? 
'I’ve been working and performing with Mike Smith since 2017 on and off and we’ve been developing a way of playing together in this manner, so it’s something we’ve been slowly working on for a while. We decided we’d reached some kind of artistic zone we were happy with and thought it was time to make a record. I just have so much fun making music with him, and the way we improvise and weave our ideas together is still somewhat mysterious to me… which I love! I love being mystified and surprised… It’s quite a different process from the way I normally improvise with acoustic instrumentalists and I find it intriguing.'

I notice that de combination of acoustic instruments and electronics is more and more common. Lots of artists are experimenting with this set-up. Is it mutual influence between a younger generation of formally trained musicians?
'Perhaps! It does seem as though electronics have become part of the contemporary musical landscape in general…'

On a lot of Canadian releases by jazz and improvised music I find 'Toronto Arts Council' of 'Funded by ...' or another indication of official endorsing. Is that a common policy in Canada? And what does it mean?
'In Canada there is fairly strong arts funding support for creative music from all levels of government through different arts councils at the federal, provincial and municipal levels. I think it’s a fairly good system and provides a lot of support to artists for their work which they would not otherwise be able to fully fund themselves. If you see an arts council acknowledgement on a recording, it just means that the artist applied to a grant program and was lucky enough to receive a grant. Applying in itself does not mean you will get a grant, as obviously there are many applicants and only limited funds available. If you do win a grant for your recording, you are obliged to acknowledge it.'

Your time is divided between Toronto and Berlin. How did you come to this and can you tell something about the way both cities inspire you?
'I started going to Berlin in 2013 to study with the great German trumpeter Axel Dörner and I immediately fell in love with the city and it’s exciting cutting-edge music and arts scenes. For the next couple of years after that, I returned as often as I could, and then at some point I fell into a rhythm of 3 months in each city, back and forth. That continued until the pandemic, when I was forced to mostly remain in Canada. At some point earlier on, I had decided I wanted to move completely to Berlin, but in the end, my deep ties to Toronto and my beloved projects there kept me with a foot in each city. Now I feel as though I can’t live without either one…'

How is the relation between composition and improvisation in your music?
'In both my longtime quartet ‘Lina Allemano Four’ and my Berlin trio ‘Ohrenschmaus’, we play my compositions which rely heavily on improvisation. This question comes up very often when people hear my music - how much is composed and how much is improvised? In these 2 groups, composition and improvisation are completely intertwined. The idea that the listener might not be able to immediately perceive what is composed and what is improvised is exciting to me. If this line is blurred, then we have achieved something. Both elements are completely dependent on each other, that is, the improvisations are based directly on the composition and the composition relies on improvisation to become fully developed.'

You have realised already a quite impressive discography with different projects/settings. Can we say that the Allemano Four is the core band? Or is it just the band that has lasted the longest?
'Perhaps yes to both. Lina Allemano Four is my longest running project (now at 16 years with the same musicians!) which also means we’ve had the most output. I’m very attached to this band, I must admit. It does feel like an important, or as you say, core artistic project of mine, and I’m quite proud of it.'

Lots of musicians tell me that they do not listen too much to other music. What about you? Eventually: what is the music you like to listen to?
'I mostly like to listen to live music. Many sorts of music! I really like variety. Pre-pandemic times, I rarely listened to recorded music as I would generally prefer to go out to live concerts instead.'

What made you choose the trumpet as your main instrument?
'Having started piano at age 4, by age 10 I was losing interest and asked my dad if I could quit piano lessons. He agreed but only if I chose another instrument. My older brother was playing trumpet already and I wanted to be just as cool as him, so I chose the trumpet. I seemed to noticeably excel at it fairly early on and rarely have gone a day without playing it since I started. I became deeply connected with the instrument at an early age and really felt I could express myself on it better than on any other instrument.'

What is your next project?
'Lina Allemano Four recorded a new “pandemic album” back in February with music I wrote during the pandemic, and I will start working on putting that out for 2022. Before that though, I’ll be releasing a duo project (another “pandemic project”) that I did with my Toronto drummer Nick Fraser along with 4 young collaborators (from Toronto, New York City and Berlin) who did intriguing remixes of our trumpet and drums tracks. We’re calling it ‘Trumpet & Drums REMIX Festival’ and it will be out this fall. It will be coming out in weekly instalments of music: one track of trumpet and drums duo paired up with one remixed track by one of our collaborators. I’m pretty excited about this project!'

How did you cope with Covid-19 and the lockdown?
'It was a difficult and largely unhappy time for me, as I’m sure it was for most people. Essentially, my whole life got turned upside down very suddenly and there was an incredible amount of uncertainty for a really long time. Not being able to play music or spend time with friends and family was very stressful. The amount of isolation and deprivation I experienced was something I hope to never experience again! Somehow I managed to get quite a lot of work done despite everything - mostly composing and recording, and of course also putting out the 2 new albums, Lina Allemano Four ‘Vegetables’ and BLOOP ‘Proof’.'

Thanks Lina, we wish you success! Looking forward to your new work! 

Interview by Geert Ryssen