Avant-garde cellist Janel Leppin crosses genre boundaries in her first solo recording, Treaty. Adapting her sound with electronics, Leppin winds through a variety of territories, showing where she has been in her extensive musical training as well as where she is going. The recording brings out her versatile interests in which she composes for analog equipment, alongside acoustic and electric instruments, to create soundscapes interwoven with jagged contemporary jaunts and turntable collage, dream-pop vocal works, Persian classical glimpses, and psychedelic reveries.
Cellist Janel Leppin has developed her playing to be captivating and unique while cultivating herself into a truly innovative artist. Through her intense devotion to craft, Janel fuses high levels of technicality with unbridled creativity, moving beyond the conventions of her instrument to create music which exists in unchartered sonic territory.
Born and raised in Vienna, Virgina, Janel spent over two decades studying and performing classical repertoire on the cello and studying voice privately. Her abilities and proximity to Washington D.C. allowed Janel the opportunity to study with members of the National Symphony Orchestra throughout high school and college. Working with such notable musicians as Loran Stephenson (NSO) and Diana Fish (The National Gallery Orchestra and The White House Quartet), Janel honed her skills to become Assistant Principal of the American Youth Philharmonic, where she played among the most talented players in the Washington Metropolitan area. Eventually, Janel's drive to continue expanding her musical horizons and disillusionment with the culture of classical music lead her to pursue other means of developing her voice.
Her ambition led Janel to George Mason University in Fairfax, VA where she majored in Cello Performance and double minored in World Music and Dance. Her study of World Music was integral to her development as it gave her a broader understanding of eclectic instruments and music cultures, most notably Persian and North Indian Classical Music. Janel was invited to study with Saskia Rao-de Haas, a world-renowned cellist and rare string player of North Indian Classical Music. Rao-de Haas's impressive Indian Classical pedigree includes the likes of Hariprasad Chaurasia, Annapurna Devi and Baba Allaudin Khan, whose main disciple was renowned sitarist Ravi Shankar. Leppin studied Hindustani Classical Music for years, eventually traveling to India where, in Delhi, she studied with Rao-de Haas, refining her abilities and absorbing the rich and spiritual culture of the region.
Back in Northern Virginia where a large and vibrant Persian community flourishes, Janel was hired to perform with a Persian Classical Music Orchestra, studying the tradition in months of intensive preparations for each performance. To gain a deeper understanding of this approach, Janel studied with world renowned Ney player Dr. Hossein Omoumi. Today, she continues to work and collaborate with Dr. Nader Majd, the celebrated composer and tar player who runs the School for Persian Classical Studies in Vienna, Virginia. These relationships have lead to many of Janel's recordings and performances of Persian Classical Music. Through her unique course of study, Janel emerged as one of the few cello players in the world who plays Persian Classical Music and Indian Classic Music.
Having developed her ear through experiences and study of World Music and European/ American Classical Music gives Janel a unique approach to improvisation. While many musicians approach improvisation from a jazz influence, Janel brings a more eclectic temperament, which results in a deeply original harmonic sense. Her many years of intense study of her instrument result in Janel's playing being marked by clear and precise phrasing as she effortlessly incorporates her tastes and experiences into her music. By combining her understanding of all types of classical vocabulary with her affinity for many other types of music, Janel developed a unique and captivating approach to improvisation.
In 2002 this interest in improvisation deepened when Janel began working with her creative collaborator, guitarist Anthony Pirog. Leppin became more serious about her study of the overt traditions of improvised music, incorporating elements from jazz, free improvisation and bebop. Through her continued study of various traditions, Janel was able to organically develop her sound and that is clearly seen in the collaboration between their duo. Janel and Anthony, has released two albums, which have sold thousands of copies. Most recently, the critically acclaimed Where is Home was released on Cuneiform Records.
Janel's diverse interests and virtuosic ability have caught the attention of dozens of celebrated artists who have enjoyed working with Janel as a musician and innovator. Some of these collaborators include Kyp Malone, the songwriter/ singer/ guitarist for TV on the Radio and Rain Machine; Susan Alcorn, the legendary pedal steel player and composer; Eyvind Kang, the string player and composer; Oren Ambarchi, the guitarist and electronic composer; Skuli Sverrison, the bassist and composer; Gino Robair, the percussionist and electronic musician; and Andrea Parkins, the accordionist and composer. Janel has recorded and performed with some of the most highly respected musicians in the world, appearing on albums for Touch, Sub Pop, Cuneiform, Tzadik and Editions Mego Ideologic Organ and many others. Additionally, Janel is an active participant in New Music ensembles and other groups in Washington D.C. and beyond.
Janel has been leader of ensembles in Washington D.C. starting with a large ensemble of nine jazz musicians called The Janel Leppin Group. In the Fall of 2013, a more refined version of this group called Ensemble Volcanic Ash which includes such diverse instruments as harp, bassoon, cello, saxophone and vocals. Ensemble Volcanic Ash made its debut at the Washington Women in Jazz Festival at a sold out concert at the epic jazz center, Bohemian Caverns. Ensemble Volcanic Ash also headlined at the 2013 Sonic Circuits Festival of Experimental Music and is doing a residency at the famed Twins Jazz in May 2014.
Performing at experimental music festivals is nothing new for Janel. Leppin has performed in every Sonic Circuits Festival since 2006. She was the first Washington D.C. musician to be invited to the highly regarded High Zero Festival, an experimental music festival in Baltimore. She has also performed in notable festivals in Europe. In the Fall of 2014, Janel will join Marissa Nadler in her group performing works from her acclaimed album July at The End of the Road Festival. Between her collaborative work as part of ensembles and her performances with Janel and Anthony, Leppin's schedule remains extremely busy.
Janel's musical artistry goes beyond simply performing. She was called to work as curator for the Issue Project Room in 2012 as part of Susan Alcorn's residency. Leppin lead a group of world class musicians she chose who met for rehearsals of her arrangements of Alcorn's music. This experience culminated with a concert at the Issue Project Room on May 31, 2012. In 2013, The Sonic Circuits Festival also used Janel as a curator for San Francisco based composer Gino Robair's improvised opera I, Norton, which was performed at The Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage as part of the Festival. She also joined Eyvind Kang and his ensembles for his residency at The Stone in New York City during July of 2013.
Additionally, Janel has been hard at work recording an album of Classical Music, playing works by Villa-Lobos with soprano Meghan Whittier. Her group, Ensemble Volcanic Ash, has begun work on an album featuring her original compositions and a third album from the cello and electric guitar duo Janel and Anthony is underway. Janel is also recording an album of turntablism, exploring her work in the realm of Musique Concrete, which has been a hallmark of many of her solo performances.
Amidst all this collaboration, Janel still makes time for her solo work. For many years she has performed solo projects, often utilizing several instruments, record players and dozens of effects pedals to shape the sound she's after. Soon she will release her first solo album, Treaty, which is a departure from Leppin's previous work. The album incorporates her technical proficiency across a wide range of instruments, myriad stylistic influences and her voice to create a sound indicative of all Janel Leppin has experienced. Completely written, arranged, performed and produced by Leppin, Treaty represents the next steps in Janel's continued development as a truly innovative artist.