For the better part of the last 20 years, the flutist and improviser, Alessandra Rombolà, has remained one of the best kept secrets on the European experimental music scene, working within O3, an ensemble co-founded with percussionist Ingar Zach and accordionist Esteban Algora, and Muta, with Zach and Rhodri Davies, as well producing a small number of solo collaborative efforts. Here at SoundOhm, we’ve long felt that Rombolà’s remarkable talent was sinfully under documented, something that the Oslo based imprint, Sofa, has taken steps to remedy with “Out of the Playground”, capturing her latest commissions and collaborations for solo flute and electronics with composers Daniela Terranova, Jan Martin Smørdal, Ingar Zach, and Lasse Marhaug. Bordering on the mind-blowing, these five works chisel at the foundations of the contemporary new music scene, imbuing it with some much-needed vibrancy, life, and urgency. Issued by Sofa as a beautiful produced CD, housed in a six-panel digipack, designed by Stephen O'Malley and featuring artwork by Chiara Caredda, it's stunning inside and out.
Born in Southern Italy and classically trained, Alessandra Rombolà has been based in Spain for more than twenty years, deploying a remarkable depth of skills and versatility toward the flute to carve out a unique place at the juncture of free improvisation and modern composition. Since her debut solo outing,“Urueña”, issued in 2005, she has only issued one other album under her own name, 2017’s “Epigramas”, in addition to handful of collaborations within O3 and Muta, and with Rhodri Davies, Matt Davis, Mark Wastell, Michel Doneda, Ingar Zach, and Esteban Algora. Six years on from her last, Rombolà has unquestionably made it worth the wait with “Out of the Playground”.
The album’s five incisive, exploratory compositions, each a respective commission from, or collaboration with, Daniela Terranova, Jan Martin Smørdal, Ingar Zach, and Lasse Marhaug, for solo flute and electronic, draw on Rombolà’s polyvalent musical background, and are united in a mission to venture “out of the playground” of scenes and genres, pursuing fresh visions of freedom and discovery.
Opening the album is the Norwegian composer Jan Martin Smørdal’s “Répétitions II”, followed later by “Répétitions I”, both of which were composed in 2020) and utilise the addcoder, an audio device that was developed by the composer in collaboration with the Norwegian Center for Art and Technology (Notam), to simultaneously record, amplify, and play back two studies of iteration. In each piece, Rombolà begins with a phrase that, through the addcoder, she attempts to repeat exactly. The device layers these attempts, and, in time, wrangles an avalanche of iterations, creating wild cascades of percussive tonality, texture, and extended whistling sonorities that thread like strings throughout the piece.
“Out of the Playground’s” second piece, “The Ring”, was co-written by Rombolà with the Norwegian percussionist and composer Ingar Zach, and was inspired by the collaborators’ interest in circular time. Rombolà performs the first half on bass flute in dialogue with tape material created by Zach, comprising small percussive cells that Rombolà recorded on bass flute. Astoundingly beautiful, the outcome is a masterful gesture of contemporary electroacoustic practice, infusing a remarkable amount of emotiveness within a striking sense of vision and control.
Following “Répétitions I”, we are then immersed into the Italian composer Daniela Terranova’s “Breathing Rust and Clouds” (2019), drawing its form from a fury of percussive techniques that render high, frail fragments. The only work on the album without electronics, “Breathing Rust and Clouds” delivers heavily in the realm of timbral possibilities - using the flute as a resonating and percussive chamber as much as a generator of tone, before the album concludes with “Our Forbidden Land” (2022), composed by Lasse Marhaug. The longest and arguably most monumental of the works featured on “Out of the Playground’, clocking in at nearly 26 minutes, is an immersive gesture of ribbing tonality created through layered recordings of Rombolà’s playing in response to imagetic prompts, on top of which she produced melodic lines that transcend a connection to their source and evolve into something otherworldly and beyond. Written while Marhaug and Rombolà were moving, Rombolà said, the work has ties to “forbidden dreams” of living in other places, a craving for homes both known and unknown.
Absolutely incredible and riveting from its first sounding to the last, Alessandra Rombolà’s “Out of the Playground” is quite possibly the best body of new music compositions we’re likely to hear all year. It’s one of those records that fills you with life and hope, and leaves you feeling curious and changed. Truly amazing and not to be missed, “Out of the Playground” is issued by Sofa as a beautiful produced CD, housed in a six-panel digipack, designed by Stephen O'Malley and featuring artwork by Chiara Caredda. We can’t possibly recommend it enough.