Alex Hamburger’s Debut Album Praises Strong, Relentless Women
Flutist, composer and native singer of DC Alex Burger threads generations of voices through his debut album And she spoke. Focused on sharing the stories of women – from poets and activists to composers and songwriters – the album features original music and new interpretations of enduring works. Exploring pieces by Geri Allen, Maya Angelou, Mary Lou Williams, Joni Mitchell and her own grandmother, poet and activist Ana Maria R. Codas, Hamburger creates a highly orchestrated textural experience that unfolds in thoughtful sequence.
In his liner notes, Hamburger describes the experience of designing and recording And she spoke as “standing on the shoulders of giants”. She credits her own journey through music to the women — and, in particular, black women — who came before her. “These women made it possible for women like me to have a voice,” she says. “Women like Terri Lyne [Carrington] and Mary Lou Williams led the way.
Recorded in a single day at JazzCampus Studio in Basel, Switzerland, And she spoke presents the members of the quartet Jose Luiz Martins at the piano and at Rhodes, Chase Kusel on drums, and Hamburger’s mentor-turned-colleague Doug Weiss on bass. “Playing with Doug is always a lesson,” says the DC artist. “It’s so solid and grounded but so interactive – part of this big swirling thing. What he brought to music were really his experiences – who he is. To have someone from his generation who’s been there and played – even the way he talks about music – you can feel all of that when you’re playing with him.
Cool recording and mixing engineer clarity Patrick Zosso serves the tonal precision and colors of music, and the overall Hamburger aesthetic for recording. “Patrik heard the music and knew what she needed,” she says. The two mixed together from a distance, sending notes and leads to each other. “We didn’t have that ‘sitting moment’, but he was very patient.”
“A big part of how we perceive music, on a very visceral level, is through texture,” Hamburger says. She and Martins match and mirror each other’s melodic development versus spontaneity, particularly on their stark, haunting arrangement of Mitchell’s “Last Chance Lost” that leads into the Beatles classic “Across the Universe,” as well as “Unconditional Love” by Allen. Fundamental buoyancy enhances exploration of disc texture, nuanced and elemental. “Waking in the City,” Hamburger’s answer to Angelou’s “Awaking in New York,” offers a drone that creates a mood that quickly picks up momentum. Hamburger serves up a strong and moving statement on her arrangement of Williams’ “What’s Your Story Morning Glory,” acknowledging the vastness of the black female experience in music. On “Burning the Letters,” the flautist-composer’s instrumental homage to Sylvia Plath, a reflective and driving energy evokes a depth of feeling over lively, conversational improvisation.
“People outside of certain circles may not know as much about who Geri was and what she did for music,” Hamburger says. “I love the way she writes. I love the way she plays and the way she conceptualizes music. I had to include her in this project. She’s one of those women who crossed the line and said, ” Fuck this. I’ll play. Get out of my way.'”
Rich transitions abound throughout “It Comes Unadorned,” Hamburger’s arrangement of Toni Morrison’s snappy verse. But the artist-composer’s most personal gesture commemorates the revolutionary life of her grandmother who fought for academic integrity under the Stroessner dictatorship in Paraguay. “I was blown away by his poems and his stories,” says Hamburger, “by this art that I was connected to and how amazing it was and how much it resonated with me. She was the starting point [for this project].”
Through Hamburger’s skillful arrangements and creative interpretations of existing literary works, And she spoke tells a series of stories that share an arc of resilience, grace and courage. “It sure has been a trip,” she says. “That day in the studio was all I had worked on for so long. And it’s a dream come true.
DC-area born flautist, composer and singer Alex Hamburger began touring at a young age. As a young member of Paul Carr’s Jazz Academy of Washington, she has had the opportunity to perform across the country with renowned artists such as Randy Brecker, Javon Jackson, Warren Wolf and Carmen Bradford. Although emerging in his career, Alex has performed at various East Coast venues such as Smalls, Birdland, The Blue Note, The Stone, Dizzy’s Club, Rockwood Music Hall, The Falcon, The Kennedy Center, Bohemian Caverns, Twins Jazz . , and Zinc Bar as well as many international venues and festivals such as Telluride Jazz Festival, Vienna Jazz Festival, Basel Off Beat Jazz Festival, Jazz Educators Network Conference and Washington Women in Jazz Festival. A highly sought-after collaborator with a distinctive vision, she has participated in several different projects, in addition to directing her own. Alex is currently co-directing a duo project with José Luis Martins who released the 2019 EP Steam trails. In 2018, Alex was placed in the prestigious Focusyear Band at JazzCampus Basel, Switzerland where she lived, studied and performed alongside masters such as Ambrose Akinmusire, Seamus Blake, Billy Childs, Guillermo Kien, Dave Liebmann, Jorge Rossy and Norma Winston. She is the 2021 recipient of the Chamber Music of America Performance Plus Fellowship, through which she and her quartet will have the chance to work alongside her mentor Ingrid Jensen.
List of tracks:
1. Waking up in town (music by Alex Hamburger and lyrics by Maya Angelou)
2. The Despair is the Passion Verdaderamente Humana (music by Alex Hamburger and lyrics by Ana Maria R. Codas)
3. Unconditional love (by Geri Allen)
4. It comes with no frills (music by Alex Hamburger and lyrics by Toni Morrison)
5. What’s Your Morning Glory Story (by Mary Lou Williams)
6. last chance lost (by Joni Mitchell and arranged by Alex Hamburger)
seven. across the universe (by Lennon McCartney and arranged by José Luiz Martins)
8. burn the letters (by Alex Burger)
And she spoke is available for purchase on Bandcamp.