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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Joëlle Léandre & Théo Ceccaldi - Elastic (Cipsela, 2016) ****½

By Eyal Haruveni
Joëlle Léandre double master is quite picky when it comes to bringing young musicians to her close circle of collaborators but the young, 30 years old, violinist Théo Ceccaldi is already an integral part of that honorary circle. His trio hosted Léandre on Can You Smile? (Ayler, 2013), the two performed together during 2015 as a duo - Léandre favorite format - and Léandre enlisted Ceccaldi for her tentet reimagination of her composition Can You Hear Me? (Ayler, 2016). So, it was only natural for these comrades to finally document their shared affinity on Elastic.
But Elastic is much more than an obvious reaffirmation of the profound, immediate interplay of Léandre and Ceccaldi, cemented in the aforementioned settings and live performances. The mutual trust, their distinct experiences as free-improvisers and their commanding mastery of their instruments enable both to charge this recording with a unique, surprising spirit. Their intimate, chamber-like improvisations - in the most innocent meaning of chamber music - radiate a rare restraint and humility.
There are no brilliant sparks of humor or stormy, intense eruptions on Elastic, as one can find aplenty on both recorded work, no dazzling explorations of extended bowing techniques or operatic vocal gibberish and even less focus on virtuosic playing that takes your breath away. But what is left is much more important. The lyrical, melancholic atmosphere reflects the confidence in each other, a deep confidence that enable both Léandre and Ceccaldi to bear their naked souls and most fragile feelings.
Léandre and Ceccaldi improvisations tell us volumes about the essence of music of the moment. Sometimes less speaks clearer and stronger than more, you can engage in riskier emotional adventures when you fully trust your partner to hold you when you fall and you are stronger as and because the ones around you. This is music of true compassion and great sensitivity, of sharing feelings, ideas and insights, and of believing in the your comrades, believing that music and art at all can make a difference. When you open yourself, even surrender, to this kind of experience you can aim higher, much higher, and touch even deeper.
I can not agree more with the Free Jazz blog comrade, Stef Gijssels, who wrote the liner notes. These masters transform their elastic strings into beautiful sounds “and then transcend into emotional bonds between musicians and listeners. Wonderful magic".   

By Stef

And here are my full liner notes of the album

French theater maker Louis Jouvet once said : “L’improvisation ça ne s’improvise pas”, meaning that improvisation can only be done properly with lots of preparation and practice, and that is what you get here. Music that at first hearing sounds like modern classical music, composed, well-structured, balanced, with lyrical lines and interactions that could only be the result of carefully annotated written music. But listen - and think - again. The dynamics, the tension, the rawness and authenticity, the inventiveness, the liveliness you hear, can only be the result of improvisation: it is the music coming out of more than one mind, or one heart, the music that creates itself on the spot, out of the tension and the harmony between two people, full of confidence in each other, musically and technically, two musicians who have something to tell. It is a personal story. Two personal stories of likeminded people merged into one. 

They clearly love what they do, they love their instruments, the sound of strings, the resonance of wood, the scraping of the bow. They follow each other’s movements, the low bass and the high violin, they echo, or they challenge, they tease, they take the sound a step further … and enjoy it. You can feel that. Théo Ceccaldi confirms that not one word is spoken about the pieces before they start playing. Joëlle Léandre says it is all one big adventure. It is the music of surprise, even to them. But is it? It is, yet in a way it is not. You can feel that they know each other. There is no surprise there. They trust each other so completely that they open up. They listen with incredible concentration. They value what they hear. They like what the other one is doing, what the other one is feeling. And it is exactly then that the element of surprise hits. Possibilities open. The other one gives ideas, and they mutually reinforce one another. They like what they can add to this, to co-create, to co-compose, expressing their feelings, while rationally keeping the focus to keep the free ideas tight and compact, cherishing the new sounds. It is the moment of magic. When seemingly paradoxical elements come together, like frivolity and gravitas, sadness and playfulness, serenity and exuberance, control and abandon, sensitivity and rawness, intimacy and austerity, often alternating but even more magically within one sound, like life itself, full of conflicting feelings and unspoken sentiments. If this is a journey, or an adventure, the two travellers set out seemingly without luggage, yet they carry with them the skill to transform emotions into sound, they carry the mastery of many musical idioms, whether classical or jazz or folk to create something new, something never heard before, something that moves, that touches the emotion, that touches our sense of aesthetic beauty. 

The title refers to the flexibility of the taut strings, stretched to the limit, tense and unyielding, another paradox, yet it is also a wordplay on the French word “elastique”, or rubber band, which, when stretched and pulled, also produces sounds. A rubber band is also meant to keep things together, compact and coherent. This is a story of strings. They bend, they vibrate, they are muted, they stick together, and all other technical things that can be done in the hands of masters, who transform these strings into sound and then transcend into emotional bonds between musicians and listeners. Wonderful magic indeed!