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Something in the Air: Brass-y Women Stand Up and Stand Out

Ken Waxman, The WholeNote, no. 17:3, November 5, 2011

Enhanced freedom in music over the past 60 years has involved more than the addition of new instrumental techniques and compositional strategies. Recasting of gender roles has also taken place. No longer are women instrumentalists expected to play traditionally delicate female instruments such as violins or flutes; or those where they sit demurely such as the piano, harp or cello. This change is most obvious in improvised music, where the number of women who stand up to play has multiplied exponentially. Many have chosen to become brass players, adapting their skills to apparatuses which demands power and stamina.

Take Toronto trumpeter Nicole Rampersaud for instance. The high-quality improvising she exhibits on Halcyon Science in the company of saxophonist Evan Shaw, drummer Jean Martin, bassist Wes Neal and percussionist Tomasz Krakowiak doesn’t distinguish in any way between her talents and those of her colleagues. During seven group compositions, the quintet vaults back-and-forth from high-energy anthems to more cerebral explorations with equal skill. Take me To Your Leader is an example of the latter, as clattering friction from Krakowiak’s noise-makers evolves in stacked counterpoint alongside Shaw’s irregularly squeezed vibrations plus the mouthpiece suckles and tremolo emphasis of Rampersaud. Her rubato slurs and valve squeaks intersect perfectly with the baritone saxophonist’s tongued percussiveness as Martin’s ratamacues, pops and drags presage harmonizing vamps and a final quivering dissolve. Meantime the title tune and Dirigible move with a chromatic gait. The former resembles an Eric Dolphy line, with repeated climaxes interrupted by mid-range honks from Shaw and stuttering pitches from the trumpeter. Dirigible stacks timbres so that space between Rampersaud’s staccato and heraldic tone and Shaw’s juddering tempos are obvious. Still a near-bugle call on the trumpeter’s part in the final sequence signals a slowdown to barely there flutter tonguing on her part, accompanied by the reedist’s smooth obbligato, until together they dovetail into muted tones framed by drumstick-rubbing friction from the two percussionists.

Enhanced freedom in music over the past 60 years has involved more than the addition of new instrumental techniques and compositional strategies.