Janel Leppin: Ensemble Volcanic Ash

American cellist and keyboard player produces deeply emotional moments in a set of challenging free improvisation over structured backgrounds


A specialist in experimental improvised music, cellist and keyboard player Janel Leppin here presents modern music at its most forceful and confrontational. From the opening bars, the listener has to sit up and take notice.

Among many international musical gatherings at which Leppin has appeared are Baltimore’s High Zero Festival, the Swedish Women in Jazz Festival, the DC Jazz Festival and Washington Women in Jazz Festival. She has been a supporting player on numerous recording sessions and her compositions have also been used by other artists.

In addition to experimental music, she is noted for her work in the fields of the avant-garde, free jazz, classical and contemporary rock. Her arrangements have been used with the Messthetics, she has played with punk band Priests and her own albums are Mellow Diamond (2016), Songs For Voice And Mellotron (2016) and American God (2017).

Here, Leppin leads her chamber-jazz group Ensemble Volcanic Ash, which comprises her husband, guitarist Anthony Pirog, with whom she collaborates as Janel and Anthony, saxophonists Sarah Hughes and Brian Settles, and harpist Kim Sator, all underpinned by bassist Luke Stewart and drummer Larry Ferguson; all of them are active figures on the new music scene in Washington D.C.

All members of the group have solo space, although mostly the spotlight is rightly on the leader as composer and chief soloist. As composer, Leppin’s skill is such that she ably provides structure and form yet never inhibits the freedom of her fellow instrumentalists to make their individual statements and it clear that her works are composed with these particular musicians in mind. Leppin’s cello playing is rich and powerful and in her quieter moments deeply emotional. Very well performed and hard driving, this will appeal to fans of contemporary free music.

Children Of The Water; Woven Forest; She Had Synesthesia; I Pose; Her Hand Is His Score; Silvia’s Path; Volcano Song; Clarity; A Palace For Alice; Leaving The Woods; Woven Forest / She Had Synesthesia (63.57)
Leppin (clo, kyb); Sarah Hughes (as); Brian Settles (ts); Anthony Pirog (g); Luke Stewart (b); Kim Sator (h); Larry Ferguson (d). Centreville, VA, 23 January 2022.
Cuneiform Rune 499