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Friday, February 8, 2019

Joëlle Léandre & Marc Ducret - Chez Hélène (Ayler, 2018) ****½

By Eyal Hareuveni

Surprisingly, French innovative and most experienced masters of free-improvisation - double bass player Joëlle Léandre and guitarist Marc Ducret - have not recorded together before their meeting at the gallery 19PaulFort in Paris, in May, this year. The two must have criss-crossed each other’s long, winding, and genre-binding roads many times before, but began performing together for the first time only last year. Finally, Chez Hélène completes both discographies with this just and much needed duo.

The album was recorded live, captured beautifully by Léandre’s trusted sound engineer, Jean-Marc Foussat, who mixed and mastered the recording and also photographed this duo flaying for the front cover. The album is titled after a famous poem of Edgar Allan Poe, “To Helen”, written in honor of Jane Stanard, the mother of a childhood friend, and celebrating the nurturing power of all women.

And, indeed, there is a strong sense of mutual nutrition in this duo that absolves common differences of gender, masculinity or feminine identity. Léandre and Ducret converse like two attentive, tireless searchers, standing close to each other.. Both have strong personalities and are passionate about their trade but very eager and curious to experience and learn more from their colleague. At first, on the opening piece “Observation”, both are still hesitant and respectful, attempting to set some playful but inventive ground rules. But already on the second piece, “Ponctuation”, both Léandre and Ducret dare more, injecting more energy and and take more risks as both tease each other with nervous, confrontational strategies.

The third piece “Vibration” begins with a solo from Léandre but soon Ducret intervenes with provocative, metallic attacks, challenging her to counter his aggressive tones. Léandre sticks to her contemplative course and manages to channel Ducret into her quiet, sonic territories. Léandre and Ducret completes each on the last and best realized duet, “Invocation”. On this piece both dive deep into a dense, free-associative and highly invigorating interplay, that still succeeds to sound intimate and compassionate despite its powerful intensity.

More, please. Much more from this beautiful, right stuff.