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JANEL LEPPIN – ENSEMBLE VOLCANIC ASH - TO MARCH IS TO LOVE (2024) (Cuneiform Records)

Janel Leppin has appeared on numerous albums encompassing various genres, and as a member of PRIESTS. She is joined on her latest recording by guitarist Anthony Piriog who was principally a member of the MESSTHETICS, as well as many other musical adventures. (More details on the background can be found in my September, 2023 review of Leppin’s first album as part of EVA).


Ensemble Volcanic Ash is described as a transcendent progressive chamber jazz unit. ‘Road tested’ during a 2023 residency at the Washington D.C. DIY venue Rhizome, I waited with eager anticipation to hear the follow-up to their 2022 album.


After an introductory track dedicated to pioneering cellist Abdul Wadud, there are many twists and turns on the album from the menacing slow-motion tango like moves on ‘A Man Approached Me’ to ‘As Wide as All Outdoors’ where everything clicks into gear with its rich sax lines and empathetic bass and drums, with staccato-ish interjections from guitar and cello, Leppin coaxing some amazing anguished sounds from her instrument to a steady hypnotic beat. ‘Union Art’ is steady cello-driven jazz with fluid double bass playing and a snappy beat; it features a stunning ‘synthesised’ guitar solo by Pirog. ‘Oh, Johnny Dear’ features some exquisite sax work while I noted the word SATIE in ‘Sateatime’; it could be one of his lost works. The title track, in two parts, ventures into a more exploratory avant-garde jazz mode, filmic and atmospheric at first, a cello tune trying to break into the melange, the melody emerging triumphantly at its denouement, drummer Larry Ferguson making use of the space created by the freedom of the piece to exercise ultimate expression (as on the shorter ‘Guidance Received’). The album ends with a moving piano rendition of cellist Pablo Casals’ ‘Rainbow’; Casals was also a political activist (Leppin describes the album as “very political” and rightly so in this troubled age of ours). “People are going to have to step up”, she says. (The same applies on my own doorstep in France and Britain where forces of the right gather like crows).


EVA’s 2022 album, reviewed on DISS, was pretty impressive, “To March is to Love” equally so, especially as it is a very different kind of album that shows what Leppin describes as a “telepathic” band exploring new musical territories. Long may the project continue!

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