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Kalia Vandever, "We Fell In Turn"

We Fell In TurnVandever's first solo album was recorded in three days and features her improvising on (mainly) trombone, effects, and voice. The improvised approach never shoves this music even an inch away from clarity, deftness, and emotional depth. Every piece feels fresh, abstract and dreamlike—as if she's channeling spirit voices from elsewhere—but all are restrained by the beguiling warmth, subtle tension, and comforting understatement of her sonorous playing. It's marvelous to hear the trombone burst, or maybe a more accurate descriptor would be slide, free of all genre association.


From the opening tune, entitled "Recollections From Shore," the album riffs off echoes and memories from Vandever's childhood in Hawaii, although this knowledge did not stop my imagination from going wherever it wished. During "Stillness In Hand" I was soon picturing steam trains huffing and puffing through a damper, gently undulating, European landscape. Then, while enjoying "Temper the Wound" I began seeing myself flying a box kite high in the sky one 1960s summer day on the East coast of England. That latter piece and also the even slower track "Held In" both give the feeling of having been created by harnessing pain or past scars to produce sounds that balance sadness with strength and survival. I have read of her mentioning waking from dreams in tears, or being comforted by visits from past memories and spirits—some when asleep and others when awake. At any rate, the softness and subtlety of this music lingers in the brain like the sound of hard-earned and humble wisdom. In Vandever's hands the trombone leaves behind any single genre or any other limitation. Effects are not overdone, and technique is hidden in plain sight as simple unhurried phrases loop, fold, or crumble slightly into themselves in a barely decipherable but extremely melodic manner.

A clear sign of a beloved record, and that's how I feel about We Fell In Turn, is when it is immediately satisfying but also slowly reveals more of itself, is deep and substantial enough to bear repeat listens yet always seems to end too soon. Engineer and producer Lee Meadvin is credited for giving valuable prompts, which presumably assisted in focusing and framing these brilliant improvisations. Hearing this was like an open goal for me, hopefully in a good way. I say that because the term "prompts" is now, of course, associated with the use of AI. To clarify: there is nothing even remotely artificial about We Fell In Turn. Furthermore, the luckiest bot program on earth could not have hit this bullseye if asked to imitate "an extremely detailed trombone recording in the style of Robbie Basho's "Orphan's Lament" and William Basinski's The Disintegration Loops along with atmospheric tones and cool yet melancholy textures." Which is not to say that methodology is everything. We read everyday about how artist x has, for instance, only used analogue equipment to create album y (but that can't save it from sounding like a huge confused messy zzzz). No such problem here as Kalia Vandever does not put a foot wrong.

At this point I could refer to such distinctive proponents of an instrument as Jan Garbarek, although Laura Cannell (cello and recorder) and maybe Kali Malone (pipe organ, synthesizer) also come to mind. Similarly, Vandever is taking the time to sincerely communicate the essence or feeling of true tales with a sonorous power, both memorable and restrained. Rather than trying to do too much, overreaching, and muddling things, she proceeds at her own pace, in her own style, and gets it just right. After hearing her solo work, I discovered that she is touring in the band of a popular artist who - let's be crystal clear - says nothing to me in my life. It would have been a grave mistake if I had allowed that fact to dissuade me from giving this album a chance; it is a contemplative work of elegant dreamscapes, a sound collage, a map of hidden feelings; organically constructed as if the puffy clouds in a clear blue sky had been blown into position by breath from ancestral lips.

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