This year the annual critics poll in Downbeat magazine crowned Ingrid Laubrock as “Rising Star” on the tenor saxophone. As is often the case, the distinction comes a bit late, honoring someone who had risen years earlier. Laubrock–who is equally proficient on the soprano sax–has been at the top of her game for quite a while.
She discovered free improvisational jazz as a twelve-year-old living in a small town in Germany. After graduation, she escaped to artistically wide-open Berlin and eventually settled in London, where she started busking on the alto saxophone in the subway, having just picked up the instrument a few months earlier. She progressed rapidly and took lessons from Jean Toussaint and Dave Liebman, two masters of saxophone technique, and ultimately studied formally at the Guildhall School. That required a return to the basics, including mastery of the bebop lines and harmonic progressions heard in Laubrock’s earliest recordings. She worked in mainstream jazz and in progressive pop groups but remained dedicated to the avant jazz sounds that had hooked her as a youngster. By the time she came to New York in 2008, she was fully committed to the freer forms of jazz.
Since moving to Brooklyn, Laubrock has established herself as one of the most important musicians in new jazz, creating music for ensembles of various sizes and collaborating with musicians of various generations and backgrounds, like the great Anthony Braxton and younger innovators such as Kris Davis, Mary Halvorson, and Peter Evans. As her compositional and arranging skills have developed she has commanded larger bands, reaching a new peak with her orchestral pieces for almost fifty musicians. A recording of them is scheduled to be released next month.
She has played the Kerrytown Concert House before, in duo with her husband, drummer Tom Rainey, with her Ubatuba quintet, and with other groups. This month she returns as part of a new collaborative trio that has recently released an album entitled Planktonic Finales.
Laubrock’s companions in the trio are bassist Stephan Crump and pianist Cory Smythe. Both are well-trained musicians who perform in a wide variety of styles and are equally comfortable playing notated and freely improvised music. Crump plays in more traditional jazz settings and with singers such as Patti Austin but is also busy on the New York improvisational scene, working with top players such as Vijay Iyer as well as leading his own groups, and has been a close collaborator with Laubrock in many settings. Smythe is prominent in both free improvisation and classical music settings, playing Bach or Xenakis with violinist Hilary Hahn and new music as a member of the International Contemporary Ensemble.
As a trio, Laubrock, Crump, and Smythe create sonic textures that highlight the various timbral possibilities of each instrument, exploiting the highly individual styles of each member, instinctively blending, sometimes working together, other times clashing and going in separate directions in a manner that encompasses free improv and classical new music. They perform at Kerrytown Concert House on September 24 at 8 pm.