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Sunday, December 4, 2016

Joëlle Léandre - A Woman's Work ... (Not Two, 2016) III

CD6: Joëlle Léandre solo - June 14, 2005 - Radio France - La voix est Libre, Paris 

By Stef

Ever since her first album, playing solo bass has been a way of expressing her music, her self, and Joëlle Léandre has kept releasing solo bass albums over the years, sometimes re-issuing vinyl albums on CD with some changes, or just re-issuing older material as with "No Comment", reviewed earlier this week. 

Here is the list of her solo bass albums, with re-issues mentioned on the same line: 
  • Taxi (1982) & Urban Bass (1991)
  • Sincerely (1985)
  • Solo Bass - Live At Otis, Hiroshima (1999)
  • No Comment (2001) and (2016)
  • Concerto Grosso - Live At Gasthof Heidelberg (2005) (double CD)
  • At The Le Mans Festival (2006)
  • Live In Israel (2008)
  • Live From The Issue Project Room (Free Music Archive, 2010)
  • Solo (2011)
  • Wols Circus (2012)
On the five tracks of this album, she shows how she has evolved over the years, playing with certitude and full abandon, doing what she thinks is necessary to be herself while at the same time keeping the audience's attention. And the audience is great. They laugh at her free word associations in French, the silliness and the anger of the words, the fun of it. They applaud with enthusiasm after each of the pieces. She gives it all, and she shows it all, the mournful acro-playing, with gut-piercing sounds that resonate between full sound and flageolets, repetitively so, the vocalising with whispered intensity over obstinate and maniacal bowing, the variation between intensity and calm, between rhythmic hypnotic bursts and more intimate caresses of the strings, the insistent whispers and shouts that appear on each track, as part of her art, as a release of anger that tries to find an escape route, the full power staccato bowing on two strings, the rumbling of the wood, the muscular tension and brutal force, the sounding board being slapped, the more intimate, calmer moments with unison spiritual singing, and then giving even more, the extreme beauty of the dark strings resonating together under her bow, moving every note to a higher, more meaningful plane, something that is beyond classification yet that has universal depth and scope, something deeply human that needs precision and tenderness and sounds that are fluent and dissonant to come to live and ends in sustained silence, fully appreciated by this audience of connoisseurs.

CD7: Joëlle Léandre, Zlatko Kaučič, Evan Parker, Agustí Fernández Quartet **** 

By Colin Green

Joëlle Léandre is a musician of many registers, mining the possibilities of her instrument in multifarious settings. Yet it’s not often we hear her in what might be thought of as the standard configuration of tenor saxophone (Evan Parker) piano (Agustí Fernández) double-bass and drums (Zlatko Kaučič), recorded here at the now ubiquitous Alchemia Club, Kraków in October last year.

The grouping is probably the only standard thing about the quartet. The four equally tasked protagonists start with a series of compressed bursts, clearing the air. The abbreviated gestures are gradually opened out into a tessellated patchwork of notes and dense textures familiar from Parker and Fernández’ own quartet work, developing into a kinetic frenzy. As it fades, Léandre emerges with a chant over growling bass, taken up by Parker’s split notes and embellished with chimes from piano and percussion. The consistency thickens with Léandre stirring away, inciting cluster runs up and down the keyboard.

Their next piece is sparser. It opens with soft piano chords, pizzicato bass, Kaučič’s brushes and the bare bones of an Arabic-tinged melody from Parker, whose playing has become even more nuanced in recent years. It comes to rest on a bowed pedal chord from Léandre and develops into a duet between bass and saxophone, joined by clockwork piano and lightweight drums as the pace quickens. There’s then a timbral pollination as the whole quartet indulge in scuffs and squeaks from which the tenor emerges with Parker’s typical, roughhewn phrases.

The final piece is just Léandre and Parker, knotted together throughout in a dazzling display of breakneck exchange, shadowing, anticipation and response. Occasionally, Parker’s circular breathing rises to the surface and the piece concludes with his glimmering waves set against scuttling bass.

A fine example of Léandre’s skills as an ensemble musician, in a quartet from whom it would be good to hear more.

CD8: Joëlle Léandre: Duos with Zlatko Kaučič, Evan Parker, Agustí Fernández **** 

By Colin Green

Two days later the same musicians were back on stage, but in the more familiar format of duos with Léandre (her preferred formation). For Léandre, the double-bass “needs to be filled with everything you have, your whole self, muscles, body and soul.” In these duos we hear this powerful physical sensibility at work, full of animation and activity, always challenging her partner to give more.

In her two duos with Kaučič, crafted textures, resonant with overtones, are atomised and dispersed by his brittle percussion, shattering into fine-scale incidents – brutal and strangely beautiful. The opening and closing of Léandre’s duo with Fernández is also percussive with the latter using the piano’s internals to produce exotic washes. In the central section, her gnarled bass lines are sensuously tactile, tracing a simple melody against the piano’s darting runs and pounding chords.

As with the quartet, the performance ends with Léandre and Parker. They move from a weightless state – multiphonics and plucked harmonics – to the shimmering movement of oscillations and tremolos and then back, for a hushed close.

Léandre has said:
"I have a fundamental belief in tradition, no-one comes from no-where. You have to learn, and then learn to un-learn. And then you’re on your own. It takes twenty-five years to learn, and as much time to un-learn."
She started playing a plastic penny whistle at eight, so we should now be hearing her at her peak, something comfortably borne out by the contents of this box set.