Another treat from Joëlle Léandre, her 60th birthday gift to music lovers, two CDs in one set, with two totally different approaches, showing the various sides of the artist, and both equally compelling.
Both were also recorded live on two consecutive nights in Ulrichsberg, Austria.
The first one is a tentet recording, a piece which made Léandre quite nervous because she had not composed for a large ensemble for quite a while, being better known as a small ensemble improviser first and foremost. The fifty-three minute long piece is like a suite, with a string quartet consisting of Thomas Wally on violin, Elaine Koene on viola, Melissa Coleman-Zielasko on cello, and Léandre on bass, with a horn section of Sussana Gartmayer on alto saxophone and bass clarinet, Boris Hauf on tenor saxophone and clarinet; Lorenz Raab on trumpet, Bert Mutter on trombone, and completed with Burkhard Stangl on electric guitar and Kevin Norton on vibes and percussion. But it is one band in truth when you hear them. The music evolves from modern classical to avant-garde with rock elements, free jazz moments, strange atmospheres with spoken words overlapping each other, dramatic tension, the intensity of free improvisation, with changing moods and modes, in a tribute to her masters and role models: Morton Feldman, John Cage. The central moments of the composition please me the most, with the arco bass evolving into a menacing classical chamber string quartet, almost Michael Nyman-like, leading to unison trumpet and sax, hesitatingly, vulnerable, abruptly encountering a walking bass and jazz drums, supported by a great string cadence, evolving in absolute free expression of the whole tentet, cautiously, respectfully, then arco bass, with Léandre adding her angry poetry, jazz power and silent whispers. In sum, the composition brings a huge wealth of ideas, a strange compilation of instrumentation and styles without actually merging them, with accuracy and extreme discipline to keep things light, without overdoing it, a lifetime celebration of music.
And good as the tentet album may be, the trio improvisation is absolutely stunning, with Léandre on double bass, John Tilbury on piano, and Kevin Norton on vibes and percussion. The music is minimalist to say the least, weaving the lightest textures out of sparse sounds, creating an unreal, primeval atmosphere of incredible purity, where sounds are dissociated from form, yet combined they offer the organic lyricism of life itself, before it actually takes shape. This doesn't mean the music is naïve or friendly, no, it can be harsh and dramatic, but almost without consequence, just as sound, arising and evaporating, leaving an imprint as context for the next sound, equally beautiful by itself, equally powerful, ..... fragile beauty.
Léandre has sometimes referred to herself and her instrument as the farmer using her tractor, but this music is among the most sensitive she has created, surely as the result of hard work and lots of sweat, yet the album shows you the artist as she learned to be from the start: "Be yourself! Do it and go!". She did exactly that. This is her music. This is her musical journey compressed into two CDs.
The second CD alone is worth the purchase. The first CD alone is worth the purchase.