Lyn Leon

All musicians boast about "their sound," but few bands can make a credible claim of having invented a sound that's really unique. Lyn Leon can. Matthias Eser, Stephan Diethelm, and Carolyn Leonhart, the trio at the core of the band, write music that's pop, in the grown-up sense of the word, a bit jazzy with a sprinkling of R&B and seasoned by various rhythms from around the world. What makes them exceptional is that the music is played on glass instruments invented by Eser and Diethelm. The BB-phone is a xylophone-like instrument made of 20 bowls that are played with mallets or rubbed with wet fingertips. The bowls are tuned by filling them with water to vary their pitch. The verrophone is actually a large glass bell, usually used to cover clocks to keep them dust free. They play it like a tabla. The glasröhrenspiel (glass tubes instrument) is similar to a vibraharp, only it's made of glass. The sounds these instruments produce are otherworldly, full of rich, deep overtones, sliding open notes, and gently chiming arpeggios that bring to mind a delicate muted glockenspiel.

Stephan Diethelm traveled all over the world with his family when he was a child. The place that impressed him most was Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia). There he was infected with what he calls the drum virus while listening to the locals play hand percussion and thumb piano (mbira). In school he studied classical drumming, marimba, vibes, and piano. A live Santana concert started his journey into pop, jazz, Latin, and world music. Matthias Eser's grandfather was Erich Schmid, a famous Swiss conductor and composer. Eser and Diethelm had known each other for many years and discovered a shared interest in percussion. Eventually, they created the Swiss Percussion Group to play contemporary drum music that incorporated the sounds of stones, glass, and clay objects. They recorded three CDs as SPG and commissioned music from modern composers.

Then Diethelm had an epiphany: "I was shopping for a gift for my mother in the Glasi Hergiswil glass factory. I'm in the habit of drumming on everything in sight and found some glass objects with an exceptional timbre." Diethelm wrote a letter to Glasi Hergiswil's director, Röbi Niederer, asking for some of his glass. With exceptional generosity, Niederersent Diethelm a case filled with unique glass objects belonging to his father. The Swiss Percussion Group started experimenting with Niederer's glass objects, and with his help Diethelm and Eser developed their exceptional instruments, beautiful objects that can almost double as sculpture. "We put together a program with percussion instruments of stones, glass, and clay," Diethelm recalls. "It worked so well, we thought it would be great to have a singer. Gil Goldstein, who wrote a piece for the Swiss Percussion Group, recommended Carolyn. She came for a weekend and it went so well, we decided to do a CD together."

Leonhart, primarily a jazz singer, is based in New York City and has been all over the world as a member of the Steely Dan touring band. She has several solo jazz albums out in Japan and has sung with the bands of her brother, bassist Jay Leonhart, and sax player Wayne Escoffery. She also performed with the hip-hop group the Real Live Show and has toured with the electronic lounge act Wax Poetic. The Swiss percussionists thought so highly of her talent that they eventually named the band after her. Glass Songs, by the Swiss Percussion Group and Leonhart, showcased the music of Diethelm and Eser. They were going to use the lyrics of favorite poems for the songs, but when they couldn't get the rights, Leonhart wrote new words.

On their first tour, people were so enthusiastic that the trio cut a second album, Glass Lounge, changing their name to the more consumer-friendly Lyn Leon and adding electric bass, percussion, and keyboards to the front line. "On that first tour each time a glass broke, the music stopped," Diethelm recalls. "Eventually, we began to use easily replaceable glass instruments. The unusual combination of glass sounds played with percussion instruments and Fender Rhodes made fascinating rhythms from the very first beat." Glass Lounge was a hit in Europe. Lyn Leon was invited to tour with both Peter Gabriel and Al Jarreau. The second Lyn Leon album, Private Pop, came out in Europe in 2005, and in the United States in 2007. ~ j. poet