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Lina Allemano: innovative trumpeter, band leader

Lina Allemano Four performs at Edmonton International Jazz Fest on July 2
2906 trumpeter 2 sup Manuel-Miethe CC
Trumpeter, composer, and band leader Lina Allemmano returns to her stomping grounds at the Edmonton International Jazz Festival on July 2, 2022. MANUEL MIETHE/Photo

There are hundreds if not thousands of women singing jazz across North America. But the numbers shrink significantly when looking at jazz composers and band leaders. 

Juno nominee Lina Allemano is one of those rare exceptions. An innovative trumpeter, she is also a prolific composer and directs a woman-led band, Lina Allemano Four. The foursome showcases their melodic version of free-form jazz at the Edmonton International Jazz Festival on Saturday, July 2 at Yardbird Suite. 

For three decades she has written, performed, and recorded cutting-edge contemporary music in experimental, conceptual, and improvised jazz settings that led to an international career. Although raised in St. Albert, she now splits her time between Toronto and Berlin. 

At the jazz fest, Lina Allemano Four will be giving audiences a taste of new music through Vegetables, her 2022 Juno-nominated six-track album where every cut is named after a vegetable — Onions, Beans, Brussels Sprouts, etc. 

“I wrote the whole album in Berlin two or three years ago during a quiet time. I had working titles for them, Berlin 1, Berlin 2, Berlin 3 … But I left it like that. When we went to record in the studio, there were no titles,” said Allemano during a Zoom call to Berlin where she is currently living. 

“We were in the studio thinking, ‘What could we name as a series?’ When you’re hanging in the studio intensely for a few days, you get silly. I think Brody came up with the idea for vegetables. We laughed so hard. We were all in hysterics laughing and crying and that’s how it went.” 

The Lina Allemano Four includes Brodie West on saxophone, Andrew Downing on double bass, and Nick Fraser on drums. As an acoustic chamber jazz quartet, they play Allemano’s original music written exclusively for the band. 

Allemano has a deep connection to Vegetables, in part because she wanted to experiment with new directions the band could attempt. Throughout the album, she also paints an orchestral vibe. 

“The band has been together for so long and we’ve developed a shorthand. We’ve done so many hours of work together to get to the point where we’re able to play the music we play. The album shows off the band and it sounds like we’ve played together for 17 years. It has an effortlessness to it. The music is very challenging. It’s not mainstream by any stretch of the imagination. There’s a lot of improvisation and I feel it’s quite mature at this point. That’s what I’m most proud of — the maturity of the music and the way we play together.” 

Allemano was first introduced to the horn as a child by her father Lou Allemano, a respected trumpet and euphium player. By age 10, Bill Dimmer, a trumpeter with Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, was tutoring her. 

“I won a competition when I was 12 and that solidified things for me. Only at 12, I didn’t know how good I was. But it gave me a type of an idea of what it was like to perform and to be a trumpet player.” 

She spent two years at MacEwan College before heading to the University of Toronto in 1993. 

“I was quite lucky. It was a good year, and it was a small program with students playing at a very high level. On top of that we had a very supportive environment. All the teachers were young — only eight to 10 years older than the students — and they were the main jazz players in Toronto.

“Things were hopping. There were a lot of jazz clubs, and gigs were booked for a whole week. My teacher knew all of them, so he moved them out to me and some of the other students when he couldn’t make it. I cut my teeth right away.” 

While forming different bands promoting diverse styles of music, Allemano continues to evolve her material, deliberately stepping in new directions searching for different ideas and ways of playing. 

“I never like to go back. I’m always going forward. As soon as we record an album, I get ready for the next gig.” 

Never shy about shifting direction, Allemano was mesmerized by German touring trumpeter Axel Dörner, who performed in 2013 in Toronto. 

“I saw him a few times and was fascinated by his playing. He really developed his own way of playing. He was making sounds I never heard anyone make or the way he played the trumpet.” 

Strict with students, Dörner demanded she learn circular breather, a challenging technique whereby horn players breathe through the nose. 

“It’s a technique a lot of improvisors use on wind instruments so they don’t have to stop to take a breath while playing. It’s hard. It took me three months to learn. It’s like patting your head and rubbing your tummy at the same time.” 

Allemano moved to Berlin to study with Dörner and was introduced to numerous musicians who invited her to perform. 

“I just fell in love with the city. I knew I had to spend time here, but I wasn’t ready to leave everything I had in Toronto, and frankly, I was terrified of losing the quartet. I moved to Berlin and somehow kept the half-and-half thing going.” 

Today, her music strikes a balance between melodic lines and the freedom of improvisation. Once comfortable with calling her material free jazz, Allemano now hesitates. 

“There was a point I was calling it free jazz, but I don’t feel that’s what it really is right now, especially since our bass player, Andrew, uses a bowing technique that’s not traditional for jazz groups. It’s a more abstract experience, but I'm still going for an emotional connection.” 

The Lina Allemano Band performs Saturday, July 2 at Yardbird Suite, 11 Tommy Banks Way. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Showtime from 7:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tickets at the door: $35 general, $30 seniors/students.


Anna Borowiecki

About the Author: Anna Borowiecki

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