American cellist-composer (and textile artist) Janel Leppin’s Ensemble Volcanic Ash materialized after years of incubation on Washington D.C.’s verdant new music, art rock jazz and improvised music scenes. Leppin has worked with most of the musicians of this seven-piece ensemble for over a decade, including husband Anthony Pirog (with whom Leppin played in the duo Janel & Anthony) and bassist Luke Stewart (of Irreversible Entanglements fame), and created a unique, genre-bending sonic palette, with fascinating cinematic qualities.
Leppin’s compositions for the Ensemble Volcanic Ash tell suggestive, colorful stories. The opening, brief piece «Children of the Water» set the chamber and elegant, emphatic yet deeply sensual emotional territory of the album. The following «Woven Forest» relies on a driving groove that propels the solos of Leppin and alto sax player Sarah Hughes and later a scorching one of Pirog. The mini-suite «She Had Synesthesia» and «Her Hand is his Score» cement the telepathic dynamics of Leppin and Pirog, both are not shy from raw and ecstatic eruptions. «I Pose» patiently builds an incantatory, powerful cello-driven climax evoking transcendence. «Silvia’s Path», referring to poet Sylvia Plath, is a minimalist piece that celebrates Philip Glass-like repetitive patterns.
Leppin’s most impressive compositions are the last ones on the albums. The album’s centerpiece, the nine-minute «Volcano’s Song», was inspired by Leppin’s flight during the 2010 eruption of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull volcano after a long European tour, but its seductive, cyclical melody owes much to the avant-klezmer of John Zorn’s Masada book of compositions. «A Palace for Alice» was inspired by the mystic-spiritual music of Alice Coltrane, and especially by Coltrane’s «Journey in Satchidananda» (Impulse, 1971), and highlights the playing of harpist Kim Sator and sax player Hughes. Leppin closes the album with the first song she ever composed, the beautiful melancholic but somehow unsentimental ballad «Leaving the Woods», which she first recorded on the 2012 album of Janel & Anthony (Pirog) «Where is Home» (Cuneiform).
Janel Leppin (c, keys), Luke Stewart (b), Kim Sator (harp), Anthony Pirog (g), Larry Ferguson (dr), Sarah Hughes (as), Brian Settles (ts)