The notion of texturally advanced improvised music is strong in Canada. Beginning with the likes of Jean Derome, Joane Hétu, and Le Quatuor de Jazz Libre du Québec, Quebec’s musiques actuelles movement forged an original sound out of the ideology of blues and swing, with a wide array of different sound effects and instrumental technics entering the mix. Today, improvising musicians of all ages continue to explore sonic landscapes in many different ways with texture guiding aesthetic choices. Although based outside of Quebec, the duo of Lina Allemano and Justin Haynes certainly pay respect to musique actuelles on their self-titled debut album. Billed as an off-the-cuff improvising session, the quick-hitting work thrives on drastic change with Haynes’ quirky sound choices backing the many faces of Allemano’s trumpet playing.
“Tawny Owl” kicks off the album with some relatively straightforward improvising. Haynes provides a circulating guitar groove with unique, scratchy effect, giving space for Allemano to introduce the project with sketches of melodic ideas. At less than one minute in length, the second song, “Tit Riot,” doesn’t define itself as one of the album’s standalone tracksk; however, the static drones that infect it set off a chain of tunes that delve into barren wastelands with harsh experiments keeping the listener on edge. The dramatic space of “Lente” is contrasted by brash dissonance of “Gel.” Both tracks also feature Allemano playing quick, punching notes on trumpet, adding to the unease. “nosex” continues the storm with breathy trumpet styling juxtaposed by screaming distortion over top of rambling electronic bass lines. On the second half of the record, Allemano’s fuzzy techniques complement Haynes’ percussive tin can interpretations before playful sketches end off the album on a rather unresolved note.
The album’s sound hinges somewhat on aesthetic change and contrast, but through Allemano’s melodic development and Haynes’ balance of soundscape structure and countermelody the duo avoids gimmicks and accomplishes a high level of musicality. Allemano is especially gifted at building upon minimalist ideas. On “Lente,” a fluttering breath technique becomes central to the track. Allemano branches out with quiet phrasing and various high notes, but the main idea continuously returns and gives the piece a sense of identity. Haynes constantly backs her up on prepared piano, first opening up the playing space with sparing drones, but slowly picking up the pace to match Allemano’s quick lines. The strength in communication also shines on “Stylus,” where the players find unity in matching textures. Allemano’s quasi-distortion trumpet technique sits quite nicely within Haynes’ eclectic percussive sounds and despite lacking a formal melodic delivery, the fuzzy overall sound follows a general progression of intensity.
The urgency at which the album passes by raises questions. Most improvised musicians have a tendency to favor sprawling pieces with seemingly endless supplies of space, but this album is much more condensed, resulting in positive and negative consequences. On one hand, the album follows an interesting sound progression and the quick-witted phrasing doesn’t linger for too long. The musicians also seem to try and take advantage of every moment of each track, more than they may have if they were intending on filling a longer period of time. Of course, the shortness of each track can squash developments. The album sits at a rather quite volume level and the two final tracks on the album last less than two minutes and seem to cut off a bit awkwardly. I would argue that the idea of fast developments is positive, but a bit more space may yield more resolution on their next effort.
Glamour Nails feels fresh. Their unique sound and approach to album making stand out in a densely populated musical idiom. Also, both players display a real talent for musical development and texture. Admittedly the ending is a bit abrupt and certain choices, although unique, feel unfinished, but the work leaves a lasting impression and showcases a lot of potential in the duo.
– Review by Donovan Burtan