Kalia Vandever, “Regrowth”
By Vanessa Ague · May 10, 2022 Merch for this release:
Compact Disc (CD)

Brooklyn-based trombonist and composer Kalia Vandever’s music blossoms from melodic fragments into sweeping statements. Her 2019 debut, In Bloom, grew into a cohesive album from vivid, bright-hued phrases that featured forward-looking melodies and lush harmonies. Regrowth, her latest, continues to explore the ways music unfurls, but here, she splinters off in many directions. Frenetic improvisation and wistful meditation come in waves throughout the album.

Throughout Regrowth, Vandever and her longtime ensemble strike a delicate balance between urgency and rest. The album is more agitated and volatile than Vandever’s previous work, yet it continues to evoke a sense of hope and brightness, even in its darkest moments. It also often feels like a dialogue, propelled by her ensemble’s intuition: They’re having a conversation through music about what it means to heal, blemishes and all.

That idea comes through the strongest in the album’s structure, where pieces continually build from small phrases into something larger. “Passing Thoughts” begins with muted, plinking piano and sporadic rhythms that tumble out like an unfinished thought; trombone and drums echo those rhythms until they reach a fever pitch and burst into an ecstatic melody. The ballad “An Unwelcome Visit” moves in similar fashion, building from a tense, frenzied rhythm into a lush palette of melancholy trombone and saxophone mixed with twinkling piano. There’s a sense of expansion throughout—as if each track is in a state of perpetual development.

Much of Regrowth features the ecstatic, brilliant melodies that have become Vandever’s signature sound, and a few, in particular, provide pause for deeper reflection. “Lift” foregrounds an emphatic, poignant electric guitar melody that’s paired with drums to create a slowed-down, pensive atmosphere. “More of The Good Stuff Later” takes this ruminative tone even further: The ensemble hangs in near stillness, moving in large, repeating loops at a glacial pace until they eventually expand into vivid harmonies. It’s here where Regrowth feels like it’s arrived at its destination, moving forward from the turbulence of the healing process and into the next chapter.

By the end of Regrowth, there’s resolution, and even a hint of celebration. One of the album’s earlier melodies returns for a brilliant, unison reprise and one final moment of resolution. In making music that ventures out from its center and back again, Vandever explores how healing can be like a maturing tree. The roots remain—it’s the branches that move in new directions.

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