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Saturday, March 4, 2023

Two from Joëlle Léandre

Joëlle Léandre & Paul Lovens - Off Course! (Fou Records, 2022)

Joëlle Léandre & Núria Andorrà - BLA BLA BLA duo (Sluchaj, 2022)

By Stuart Broomer

Bassist and sometimes vocalist Joëlle Léandre is a force of art and/or nature, clearly a force of art when bringing her acute ears and technique to the music of John Cage or Giacinto Scelsi, playing duets with Anthony Braxton, Derek Bailey and Lauren Newton (to name just a few of the congenial many) or contributing to madly subtle electro-acoustic projects with George Lewis and/ or Pauline Oliveiros and a few others. A force of nature? Listen to the solo bass and voice of At Souillac en Jazz (Ayler Records), a performance in an ancient church in the South of France in which Léandre summons up a roomful of spirits, pulling, pushing and dragging them forward through her bass and voice.

Meanwhile, everything from humour to hallucination can turn up in these duos with two fine percussionists, recorded almost a decade apart.

Off Course! presents a concert from 2013 recorded at Les Temps du Corps in Paris by Léandre and a particularly witty pioneers of European free improvisation, percussionist Paul Lovens, here playing a drum set, cymbals and gongs. The CD consists of two pieces, the 28-minute title track and the six- minute “… where else?” “Off Course!”, of course, seems to suggest an itinerary, but, of course, one lost or abandoned. While any initial plan might be assigned any of its individual moments, others might suggest serious psychic wandering. In one rich interlude, particularly scenic, mystical and evocative, there, in a Lhasa temple of the imagination, Léandre’s bass is rumbling low-pitched blasts that might come from a three-meter trumpet resting on a stone floor while she sings in a keening, nasal, circular-breathing voice and Lovens organizes the ritual with assorted gongs and piercing cymbal strikes placed for optimum ordering of stages in a ceremony. Move, possibly, to Tuva, and Léandre has moved the voice to croaking throat singing with an oddly nasal/ metallic bass range. Assorted other spaces will appear as out of nowhere as well, all of it appropriate, all of it mad and all of it placed ideally on the estimable Jean-Marc Foussat’s label Fou .

There’s a certain touristic, even witty feel to the time Léandre and Lovens spend on an imaginary temple journey, but there’s serious exploration going on in the lower frequencies of Léandre’s double bass and the instruments of the young, Barcelona-based percussionist, Núria Andorrà, who works with a horizontal bass drum placed on the floor, approaching it with various techniques and materials and complementing it with assorted metallic percussion. There are 12 episodes here, ranging from less than two minutes to almost seven, but it feels like almost continuous music moving through low frequencies to explore both literal and figurative depths. In “BLA BLA 1”, a certain rolling movement from the drum’s sound combines with the harsh, low frequency bowed bass to suggest that there’s a single instrument here, but it’s closer than that: it’s often a singular conception. The dense, high frequency bowed harmonics of “BLA BLA 4” feel like stalactites suspended from the ceiling of a cave. “BLA BLA 5” is similarly mysterious with its intense, bending, pizzicato middle-register tones, resonating with a large, sometimes-scraped gong. The shifting tones and moods arrive at a kind of reverie on “BLA BLA 8” with the bassist’s gently plucked lower middle register matched to shimmering metallic sounds.

These two CDs may reflect similar instrumental palettes, but each is a distinct journey into its own sonic landscape, well worth following.