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Sunday, January 12, 2020

Latest Trio albums from Joëlle Léandre

New trio albums with French master of the double bass Joëlle Léandre, one with a new trio and another with a working one.

Robert Dick / Joëlle Léandre/ Miya Masaoka - Solar Wind (Not Two, 2019) ****½

Three master improvisers in their first ever recording session - New York-based flutist Robert Dick and koto player Miya Masaoka, who also plays assorted percussion instruments, and French Léandre, who also vocalizes-sings, recorded on September 2018 in New York. The 12 collective, acoustic free-improvisation stress the urgent passion of Dick, Léandre and Masaoka to search for new timbres and voices, resisting to follow familiar strategies and dynamics, until it is almost impossible to identify instruments and their players. Still, this ad-hoc trio succeeds to sound like a seasoned, working trio that has found its very own aesthetics.

Some of the concise pieces sound as if the draw inspiration from extraterrestrial winds and ancient journeys as the first “Whispering of the Stars”, where the trio acts like they are communicating with friendly aliens. But this atmosphere soon changes on “Speed of Silence” when Dick explodes-vocalizes through his flutes - glissando, bass and contrabass, while Léandre and Masaoka intensify the stormy-chaotic vein. Léandre’s low-end bowing on “Chronotype” and “How Old Is Your Shadow?” trigger like-minded sounds from Dick and Masaoka’s bowed koto, solidifying the cryptic spirit of this piece. You can marvel at the delicate, magical interplay of this trio on the exotic, last piece “Adiabatic”.

Australian, New York-based pianist Marc Hannaford who contributed liner notes to Solar Wind writes about the paradox of “attributing agency and intention in spite of my inability to tell which musician is making which sound. Furthermore, this paradox of disembodied-yet tangential interaction emerges from lucidity rich musical textures in which textures sound overlap, interfere, evade and encircle each other, rather than extreme textural density. This recording reveals the lush, playful beauty of this paradox”. And indeed, with each listening you may decipher another enigmatic element from the imaginative, microtonal sonic universes that Dick, Léandre and Masaoka construct and deconstruct instantly and constantly, alone and together.

To purchase the album:

Tiger Trio - Map of Liberation (Rogue Art, 2019) ****

Another trio of master improvisers that features Léandre with pianist Myra Melford and flutist Nicole Mitchell. The Tiger Trio, titled after a saying of Orson Wells who boasted that he had “the great honor of swimming in the company of a tiger”, gravitates towards dense, free jazz textures than the abstract, extraterrestrial flights of the trio of Dick, Léandre and Masaoka trio. Map of Liberation is the sophomore album of this trio, following Unleashed (Rogue Art, 2016), recorded live over two days at a gallery in 19 rue Paul Fort, Paris, and at Festival Jazzdor, Strasbourg, both in France on November 2018.

The 11 free-improvised, acoustic pieces are titled as Buddhist virtues but by no means call for passive, quiet meditation, more like a deep dive with a hyperactive tiger. These pieces stand for a total commitment for the art of free-improv, for passionate, poetic fury and the urge to be one with one’s instrument and fully aware of the moment. But this trio also expresses a profound - spiritual and emotional - need to to search for new ways to confront one’s instrument and find in it new sounds and meaning, alone and together.

You can feel how this trio suggests the right kind of “Courage”- as one of the pieces is titled, for Mitchell, Léandre and Melford to abandon familiar modes; to enjoy, playful “Compassion, as another piece is titled; or experiment with troubling “Reflection” of the self and contemplate, in a quite loud manner, the concept of “Emptiness”, or in reserved, thoughtful manner the meaning of “Steadfastness”. All as a tight trio that has explored its very own “forest of sounds liberated by the instrumentalists” - to quote French journalist Fançois-René Simon who wrote the liner notes - and has found its balanced communion. Now you can understand why the last three pieces answer to the titles “Respect”, “Humility” and “Honesty”.