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Saturday, November 7, 2009

Joëlle Léandre galore

The French bassist Joëlle Léandre does not really belong to any musical genre: she plays bass and does so with everyone who wants to interact musically, with open minds, creating open-ended music, adventurous and without preconceived notions or plans. A great demonstration of her skill is that she manages to mirror the other players while at the same time bringing them to different levels, so that the end result is always more than the sum of its parts. In doing so, she creates coherence and musical closeness, intimacy even, full of warmth and joy, while moving away from known territory, on this tonal quest for beauty and expressivity.

 Joëlle Léandre & Jean-Luc Cappozzo - Live Aux Instants Chavires (Kadima, 2009) *****

Last year I missed the performance of Joëlle Léandre and French trumpet-player Jean-Luc Cappozzo, because I already had tickets for another (excellent) concert. Now that I hear the album, I may have changed my mind. What these two musicians brings on these eight improvised pieces is exceptionally intense and creative. But it is also an exercise in sound: Léandre's bowing easisly shifts to a piercing sustained equivalent of Cappozzo's crystal-clear trumpet, or moving to warm and soft tones, when the trumpet player does the same.  Their improvisations move through totally unpredictable paths, with sudden and abrupt changes in mood and level of abstraction. And even if this music really stands on its own, it is drenched in warm blues, with classical instrumental mastery, jazzy improv and avant-garde brutality, even to the extent of producing sounds that go beyond you can expect from their instruments, and that also includes Léandre's voice. Again, this music is full of paradoxes, which define the tension: a calm sense of urgency, sounds that are in the moment yet fit in the overall lyricism, an immediacy and a directness of the performance for sounds that have such an organic and universal quality. From "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat" to the weird wildness. I've listened to it about ten times in the past few days, and it becomes better with each listen. Don't miss it.

Buy from Instantjazz.

Anthony Braxton & Joëlle Léandre - Duo (Heidelberg Loppem) 2007 (Leo Records, 2009) ****½

 I've written before that I prefer the Braxton who improvises over the Braxton as a composer. I also said why I think that : the improvisor is creative, warmer and the music has more immediacy in the moment itself, whereas the composer is more intellectual, distant and abstract.

What is even more striking on this album, is that the interaction with Léandre lifts both musicians to a rare height. The first piece is still a little getting to know each other, finding the pace, but the second piece is one of the most beautiful and varied improvisations that I've heard this year, with staccato blasts, underpinned by nervous bass-playing evolving into quiet, calm introspective moments and back again. Braxton's sax sings and dances, shouts and wails, and Léandre is especially strong when playing arco in this context. As said, she manages to give texture to music, and to get the best out of the musicians she plays with. To Braxton's credit, he is a great listener, moving along with the French bassist, moving from harsh moments to soft sensitivity to incredibly complex almost endless linear soaring sax phrases. When Braxton switches to contrabass clarinet, Léandre developes some deep single-toned bowing with deep wordless singing in accompaniment, the improvisation moves yet again into other territories. The second piece of this album brings a complete world of music, incredibly rich, varied, complex and intense : 36 minutes of pure improvisational joy.

On these two long and one short piece, recorded in an obscure café in the most godforsaken village of Loppem, near Bruges, Belgium, these two wonderful musicians found an audience, and the audience is understably quite enthusiastic.

Buy from Leo Records.

Buy from Instantjazz.

Joëlle Léandre, Maguelone Vidal & Raymond Boni - Trace (Red Toucan, 2009) ***

Joëlle Léandre on double bass and voice, Maguelone Vidal on soprano and baritone sax, voice, tom bass, and Raymond Boni on guitar. Of the three French musicians, Vidal is possibly the lesser known, although she has already made her name as the "l'agitée du saxophone" (the agitated one on the saxophone), although her playing is quite controlled and measured, even if it is quite exploratory. Boni is possibly the musician with the most recognizable style, playing constantly in otherworldly regions, using his pedals and effects and extended techniques, resulting in harsh, raw and uncanny sounds (and I often wondered what this album would have sounded like without Boni). Vidal manages well to keep up with him, showing maturity, vision and creativity. The best parts are when Vidal and Léandre play together, as "Cumuls", on which the agitated one blows some moments under water, a fun digression from music that takes itself sometimes a little too seriously. True, Boni's style is an acquired taste, and his electric voice is a little too determining in the overall sound, except when he actually contributes to it, as on "Gros Dilemme", the highlight of the album. Despite that, Vidal is a new voice to be reckoned with, and a promising one for that matter. Léandre, as might expected, feels herself in these abstract, rebellious and often nightmarish pieces like a fish in water.

If you ask me why I prefer the duo with Cappozzo over that with Braxton, I can only say that it has much more intensity and focus, even if the Heidelberg Loppem release has absolutely stunning moments.

© stef