Named one of "25 Trumpeters for the Future" by Downbeat magazine in 2007, Lina Allemano is one of Canada's best-kept jazz secrets. Her quartet has earned comparisons to groups led by Charles Mingus and Ornette Coleman, and she will celebrate the release of her fourth album, Jargon, with a show at the Tranzac in Toronto on Sunday.
WHY SHE MATTERS
As a trumpeter, Allemano has an immediately recognizable tone - a crisp, focused sound that's both understated and eloquent. "I always had a pretty clear idea of how I wanted to sound," she says. Instead of emphasizing power, as some trumpeters do, Allemano worked on "control of texture and inflection," to ensure that her playing remained expressive. "I like the idea that I can make a note sound any way I like at any given moment," she says.
That focus on colour and nuance also comes across in her work as a band leader. Although her quartet, which includes alto saxophonist Brodie West, bassist Andrew Downing and drummer Nick Fraser, favours free-flowing rhythm over mainstream jazz swing, both the writing and the improvisation remain tuneful, conveying an original and highly personal approach to modern jazz.
WHAT SHE'S DONE
Allemano arrived in Toronto in 1993, having applied to the University of Toronto's jazz program at the urging of saxophonist Mike Murley. "When I was in Edmonton at college, he came and did a workshop," she recalls. "I was trying to figure out if I wanted to go to school. He said, 'You've got to come to Toronto,' and it turned out I really liked it here."
Toronto liked her as well, and she made a splash in the jazz world almost immediately. "I got to do a lot of subbing for [trumpeter]Kevin Turcotte while I was there, so it got me right into the scene right away," she says. She didn't remain a substitute for long, though, and joined a number of Toronto jazz groups, from the Jane Fair/Rosemary Galloway Quintet to the Neufeld-Occhipinti Jazz Orchestra. She even did a session with the rock group Sloan (for the album Navy Blues).
WHERE SHE'S GOING
Last month, Allemano's quartet did a 10-date swing through the United States that took them from Cambridge, Mass., to Seattle. Booking a tour like that is, she says, "really difficult. But then, once you're on the tour, it's so amazing and fun, and you go, 'Yeah - this is why I spent a whole year doing this.' "
Finding an audience can be a struggle even for established jazz musicians, but it's particularly difficult for groups like Allemano's, which don't fit easily into established pigeonholes.
Allemano understands that radio stations and jazz clubs can be reluctant to play new music. "They say it's too crazy or too weird, and there's no audience for it," she says. "But any time somebody does take a chance, and plays one of my tunes on the radio, or I play a gig somewhere, nobody ever says, 'That's weird.' I usually get rave responses, and people e-mail me to say, 'Wow, I've never heard anything like that before.' "