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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Joëlle Léandre - A Voix Basse (Editions MF, 2008)

No doubt Joëlle Léandre is one of the leading artists on bass in modern improvisation, and I read this book by her now during the holidays. It was published in 2008 already, based on discussions she had with French music journalist Franck Médioni. In the book, Léandre speaks about her life, her music, her instrument, about music in general, about improvisation and composition.

Throughout the book, her never-ending quest for authenticity of feeling and expression acts as a "fil rouge" or common thread, without being too explicit either. She talks about her character, her rebellious nature, her anger with things, her passion for honesty of feeling, her passion to transmit this through this heavy instrument that is her bass, impractical and so difficult to travel with, but which offers this deep resonating sound, this broad pallette of sonic possibilities, this wooden warmth, this screeching anger, that is hard to find in other instruments.

In the book, you can read what I feel, what you possibly feel, what we all feel.  In that sense, it's not like the unveiling of deep secrets, but it's good to have it on paper, it's good to hear for once, rather than just experiencing it.

"Improvisation is a risky art, intuitive, spontaneous and ephemeral, the wisdom of listening. It's a sonic adventure of immense and owerwhelming properties. It's about listening to the other, but also about listening to oneself. And it's about having an instrumental assurance, not necessarily virtuoso skills. In improvisation, there's a complementarity between body, function, movement, breathing, silence, without forgetting being conscient of the stage, space, the sense of drama and time. This is something you learn by doing. Tension and de-tension, giving and abandon, measure and countermeasure, wisdom and madness. It's a music of instrumentalists, music of the body, by the body, of jubilation"

"In classical music, people are fascinated by this virtuosity, these terrible cadences. In jazz too, by the way. Speed, virtuosity,... are parameters of music, but there is more to it than that, there are three thousand things are more that are more important. There is so much : color, attack, modes, phrases, "timbre", sound. Especially the sound. To play two sounds, and to let them live in their totality. The whole history of music is there for you".

Interestingly enough, Léandre often compares her work to that of a farmer working his tractor, with her feet planted solidly in the earth, working hard, every day, to get all these sounds out of the heavy instrument, while at the same time conducting a spiritual job, not of the religious kind, but delving for the essence of existence, in the hope of coming up with something valuable, something real, something universal to share with others.

"When we play with other musicians, these moments can have an immense value, something transcendental. Sometimes we touch high spherese, very high spheres. ... Even the slightest touch of the end of the bow or the tapping of a crushed finger on the wood of the bass ... When will people understand the risk, the jubilation, life and death in each sound, every movement, everty ppulse and that all this is a celebration of life, a creation, a song, a hymn to freedom? Well there you see, I took my tractor agian, my pick-axe and my chisel!"

At a certain point I got a little frustrated that the listener was never mentioned, it was all about the creative work, the influences, the other musicians.But then finally, on page 110, the audience is mentioned : "We have had standing ovations, a very moving experience: the whole audience, more than two hundred people standing up, all happy !The audience is really part of the adventure. It plays a non negligeable role in the elaboration of the music. The audience is touched by the fragility, this energy, these bodies that give themselves, this power".

This easy to read book gives us great insights into the work ethic and artistic adventure of a great and honest artist. 

It should be translated into English, which I know hear, will be the case, in early 2011, and published by Kadima as part of a total package with music and DVD.

Buy from Instantjazz.

© stef


joesh said...

It's out finally - April 2011. Will read through it and listen, look and learn.

Very intrigued!