from: The Latest Scat, July 1983
...But jazz has lately revealed its own inspired psychic/scatter in
Lauren Newton, who also was classically trained (she has performed
works by Schoenberg, Webern, Pousseur, and others), though her affection
for jazz rhythms and improvisation provides the fulcrum of her unusual
talent. Because for Hat Hut, which provides nothing in the way of biographical
material, little is generally known about her, except that she was
born in Oregon and has lived in Germany for the past nine years, performing
with the Vienna Art Orchestra since 1979. She appears on two VAO albums,
the 1980 Concerto Piccolo (hat ART 1980/81), and the current Suite
for the Green Eighties (hat ART 1991/92), and on her own Timbre (hat
Musics 3511), and she is pleasantly unsettling.
The VAO is a 14-piece orchestra under the leadership of the composer and arranger Mathias Ruegg. With the first album, the band gave the impression of ragbag eclecticism on the order of the Willem Breuker Kollektieff; their usual tango, carnival theme, military march, and swing band ingredients were wittily blended, and one could only marvel at the incongruity of an ensemble that was named for the most musicallly blessed city on Earth yet finds most of its inspiration on our humble shores. The oddest element in the orchestrations was the inclusion of Lauren Newton's voice, which edged out over the brasses. Her frenetic, winged scat improvisation on the title selection is one of the double-album's highlights.
Suite for the Green Eighties isn't as lively, though the various influences abound (the Paris fleamarket provided some of the instruments) and Newton's voice adds the expected frisson. Here, the arrangements sound more like a combination of lab band orthodoxies and avant solos-the music of the Art Ensemble of Chicago as interpreted by Woody Herman. The soloists are uneven-saxophonist Harry Sokal is best (he invokes Rollins on "Blue for Two")-and the writing is occasionally heavy-handed. Ruegg favors background riffs that are all elbows and knees, yet shape the terrain for the improvisers; his rhythms blend a gallimaufry of American and European influences, and are generally convincing. But, again, the most ingratiating presence is that of the singer, who shades the ensemble and comes into her own on the third part of the Suite. Her scat language sound Germanic of Dutch, with its accent on d's and harsh, repeated phrases. Lots of ka-do-dat-do-da-do and seh! seh! Of da! da! Once she seems to be singing about Sal-Ni-sti-co, and more than once she recalls the sounds Cecil Taylor has been known to sing at the start of a concert.
The real breadth of her work is revealed on Timbre, where she sings six pieces mostly of her own devising, accompanied by a trio that commands a lot of sonic space; David Friedman plays vibes patterns in the treble sphere, Thomas Stabenow bows darkly in the well of the bass, and Manfred Kniel navigates midstream on drums. Newton is everywhere, building glowing crescendos, tumbling in a sudden cascade of notes, leaping octaves, dilating her vibrato, and gliding high like a hip Yma Sumac. Her scat is frequently jokey, but it always intimates a willingness to stand out on the ledge of her own feelings, and so the tension she ultimately builds is inseparable from a kind of voyeurism she inspires in the listener: will she sustain her musicality or will she collapse in a gargle of funny noises? The cleverest selections are" Conversations", in which she makes use of Clark Terry's Mumbles routine and manages to sound like a scold, a flake, a maid, and an extortionist, and Manfred Kniel's "Cross Rhythms", in which her constantly changing timbre and use of hard syllables (chika-tiki-da) are more daringly expressive than most lyrics. Although "Run of the Mill" has a motif (a chromatic doo-doo-doo), the performance is infused with a serendipitous whimsy, as though she didn't know where she was headed. And on "Who's Blue", she comes on like Bea Lillie, admits, "I really don't have the blues," and goes out parodying a diva.
If Lauren Newton is at all reminiscent of the crazed scat singers of the Watson-Gaillard generation it's because, separated from the Vienna Art Orchestra, she doesn't seem to have a pompous bone in her body, and because, even with the VAO, she seems willing to sing anything that comes into her mind. Her larynx is in the service of her intelligence. She's that rare thing-a jazz wit. I wonder if she knows "Body and Soul". *