CD3 - Joëlle Léandre & Lauren Newton - February 27, 2017 at Auditorium Conservatoire of Music of Besançon ****½
The third CD of the box set A Woman’s Work, recorded earlier this year at the Auditorium Conservatoire of Music in Besançon, is no different, showing that the two artists still burn with that same fire of creativity that we first heard twenty years ago. In fact, they seem even more direct and propulsive in their playing, toying with concepts that range from one extreme to another, from near quiescence to explosive dynamism. Lauren Newton will start with scat singing, improvising in such a way to create a false sense of melody and pleasantness, before choosing an aggressive approach embodied in hisses and screams. As if she was trying to explore the limits of sibilance, she moves through high pitched, impeccably executed screams, and finally returns to the lyricism of spoken word and slam poetry, soulful crooning, and barely heard sounds. Always with perfect control, naturally.
All the while, Joëlle Léandre flexes her approach, adapting and pushing Newton towards a singular narrative. Whether plucking gently at individual strings, swinging her bow furiously, or even choosing to play with silence, there is always a sense of playful tenacity in her tones and vibrations, a sort of vigorous, unbound joy. And when the tension reaches ecstatic climaxes or threateningly contemplative abysses, she starts using her voice to let out cries, hums, and moans, mimicking and resonating with Newton. In a setting in which attention might drift towards the familiarity of the human voice, Léandre remains equally in charge through a spirited delivery.
While the whole performance presented on the CD is delightful, never rehashing ideas or passages, repeated listens will reveal moments of muted genius—”a-ha!” turning to “oh wow!”—scattered throughout. I feel that pointing them out might somehow diminish their value, so I’ll leave it to the listeners to discover them.
A remarkable recording without which A Woman’s Work would clearly be rendered incomplete and an essential part of the 8 CD set.
CD4 - Joëlle Léandre & Jean-Luc Cappozzo - November 3, 2015, at the Auditorium Conservatoire of Music of Besançon ****½
If Joëlle Léandre is a nomad, Jean-Luc Cappozzo is not. He's in fact barely known outside of France, if he ever leaves the country, and most of his discography is with other French musicians, and the most recent albums have been reviewed on this blog with great enthusiasm, including his other duet with Léandre "Live Aux Instants Chavirés", dating from 2009. Earlier this year, he released the very sympathetic album "Soul Eyes" with his daughter Cécile, who next to being a dancer, is also a pianist, on that album performing music by Charles Mingus and Mal Waldron, fun but too mainstream to review here.
Cappozzo's duet with Léandre is of a different nature. Cappozzo may not be a geographical nomad, musically he is open to any tone and timbre, sitting surrounded by many many mouthpieces and many types of mutes, as well as an assortment of flutes. Both musicians know each other very well. They speak the same language, also musically. They enjoy themselves. They make fun. They are sad together. The music is contemplative at moments, intimate, spiritual. Then they are daring enough to change course, and infuse their sounds with folkloric dances or the blues, and growl and shout and sing, or make little jokes, or go completely nuts, or they stake serious slow and precious walks through new timbral countries, full of gravitas and drama. They travel through musical landscapes, hand in hand, exploring their little adventures, taking us along, full of willingness to share what they discover, what they create. And that's maybe the only downside of the album: the audience has been deleted. You hear the occasional cough, but no applause. And that is too bad, because this is performance music. This is music that requires an audience, music that lives, and that even might be co-shaped, inspired by the presence of that audience. Yet don't let that bother you. It is great. Excellent. And the only thing I can recommend is that you clap and cheer after each improvisation. And I don't even have to tell you, it will come spontaneously ...
The video comes from a performance earlier this year at De Singer, Rijkevorsel, Belgium.
CD5 - Joëlle Léandre & Fred Frith - June 11th 2016 Les Instants Chavirés, Montreuil (Not Two, 2016) ****
By Eric McDowell
The fifth installment of A Woman’s Work finds Joëlle Léandre “alone together” with guitarist Fred Frith. While not their first time collaborating—both MMM Quartet albums, with Alvin Curran and Urs Leimgruber, come highly recommended—this disc offers a worthwhile opportunity to catch the two masters up close and personal. Recorded this summer at the sound and art space Les Instants Chavirés by Jean-Marc Foussat, the set lasts only 40 minutes but covers a lot of territory, the improvisers being well matched in their exploratory restlessness, even if they arrive at it by different means—Léandre on the one hand incredibly powerful with a handful of relatively traditional techniques (not excluding her voice), Frith on the other turning to an unpredictable assortment of tools and objects, from bows and effects pedals to fabric straps and paintbrushes. These varying brands of resourcefulness lend the Léandre/Frith collaboration some appeal as a visual spectacle, where we have the benefit (or is it a disadvantage?) of seeing just how these musicians produce this array of sounds. We’re lucky, therefore, to have video footage of the bulk of the performance—see below.
While the reason for halving the disc’s extended improvisation into two tracks isn’t entirely clear—in the video, the performance works well as a single half-hour set—it is true that each track has its own character. If the first track smolders, occasionally guttering, the second comes closer to flaming. It’s to Foussat’s credit that the recording catches all the nuances of the first seventeen minutes. The bassist and guitarist start a bit loosely, cycling through ideas and building up potential energy. Here we can appreciate Frith’s technical inventiveness as he sits with the guitar flat across his lap, applying to it various pieces of metal, a shoe brush, and the pads of his fingers—all without losing Léandre’s train of thought, whether she’s slapping the strings or shredding her bow. Elsewhere Frith drums out rhythmic accompaniment to Léandre’s whistling arco; later she stands aside while he employs the Ebow to produce some beautifully eerie organ/theremin effects.
A few minutes into the second half, drunkenly sliding arpeggios herald one of the disc’s highlights, an off-kilter dance between bass and guitar that brings a welcome touch of whimsy to the proceedings. But before long the mood sobers, the soundscape growing dense with feverish arco and fretboard finger tapping. And then this too gives way as, moments later, Frith grabs of all things a pick to sketch out a few licks worthy of a classic rocker. At the climactic moment come Léandre’s vocalizations, stuttering and breathless, unintelligible yet deeply communicative. But the final highlight is the brief encore, packed with by now familiar ingredients but compacted into a combustible mass that well earns its minute-long applause.