Experimental Artist Laura Misch Shows Fresh Ways to Play the Sax on 'Lonely City'
Experimental saxophonist and vocalist Laura Misch brings her instrument into her subtle soundscapes, crafting a vibrant but brief world in the process on Lonely City.
3 May 2019
When asked why she chose the instrument, a professional saxophonist responded with "Because it sounds the most like the human voice." A human's vocal cords essentially act as personal reed, but most other woodwinds fail to achieve the wide, full tone of a human voice. The saxophone's brass elements grant it a bit more fullness and overall wider range of sound. Its brass and reeded characteristics suit the horn for a wide variety of songs. When you think about it, the saxophone appears in some of the best tracks around, from classic disco to video game themes.
Those who wield it imbue warmth to their music few other instruments can produce. Alto saxophonist and producer Laura Misch brings such sentimentality to her music and imbues it with modern electronic flourishes. Her latest record, Lonely City, further solidifies her talent for it, if also revealing her limitations.
At only 20 minutes, Lonely City fleets by quickly; if you want to prolong your smooth, electronic jazz session, I recommend queuing it up alongside Misch's first album, Playground. This still only allots you 40 jazzy minutes, but Misch makes them worth your while, if a bit repetitive. Her second album follows a very similar blueprint to album number one, and though this lends cohesion to her projects, it also reflects a bit of stagnancy. Thankfully, Misch's tactful musicianship allows the album to still resonate.
Listening to this album feels like submerging yourself in water, a quality Misch clearly intended. "0o0o0o0" begins with a digital fluttering which resembles the sounds you hear on submarines in films. The urgency of said fluttering and its eventual disruption implies the vessel encounters some an obstacle – before it does, Misch invites you to follow her: "Meet me in the middle."
From there, she becomes your guide, bringing you through her world of nebulous electronic sounds, warm woodwinds, and her equally calming alto. "Blue Dot's" hypnotic, 6/8 tempo lulls you into Misch's atmosphere, forcing you to follow the azure spot along with her.
Up to this point, your journey through Lonely City is one of wonder and curiosity. Upon reaching "Night Drive", the tone shifts as the saxophone is replaced by a lonely, somber piano. Here, Misch takes the wheel as her companion berates her for the journey she's taken them on. Unfazed, she rebukes them by saying "Your anger is fear" and then driving at "full capacity" towards her intended destination.
As Lonely City progresses along, it becomes more sonically and lyrically adventurous. "Walk Alone to Hear Thoughts of Your Own" shows off Misch's horn-playing skills, which she layers upon echoing chimes and a minimalist beat. In doing so, she lulls you into a pensive state constructed out of "natural" and synthetic instruments. She rises from this state on "Glass Shards", backed by percussion that lands like water droplets as she emerges from the watery depths she started in. "We'll climb to the sky today/ We'll climb these glass shards" she promises, hopeful the payoff outweighs the risks.
The inventor of the sax intended to bring fresh innovation and accessibility to the orchestral family. Less than 100 years later, his invention began revolutionizing American music in the form of jazz. Almost 100 years after that, it still thrills to see an artist like Misch show uncover fresh ways to play with yesterday's toys.