JOËLLE LÉANDRE/MARK NAUSEEF

Evident
482 Music 482-1024

Building a CD around what elsewhere would be called a rhythm section is a concept that could only come with the propagation of Free Music. That’s because its practitioners — in this case French bassist Joëlle Léandre and American percussionist Mark Nauseef — don’t follow the hierarchical designations of so-called classical, jazz or popular musics. With no front line, each instrumentalist is potentially both a soloist and an accompanist and that’s why it’s evident that EVIDENT succeeds on its own terms.

A nine-part, unrehearsed mediation on creative interplay, the instant compositions here depend much more on polyphony and polyrhythms than conventional harmony. Pertinent textures result from Léandre gliding from iron-finger plucking to pinpointed shuffle bowing, while Nauseef’s percussion legerdemain involves sounds with timbres as different as those produced by finger cymbals or hollow wood blocks.

In a reversal of form, it’s the bassist who holds onto the bottom of the music, creating scraped ponticello, that make it appear as if she’s rubbing the finish off her steel strings. Then again Léandre has never followed the expected, seeing as she’s been involved in both the free music and New music camps. She’s equally at home interpreting the written compositions of John Cage, as improvising with Swiss pianist Irène Schweizer or British guitarist Derek Bailey.

Nauseef, to his credit, doesn’t become overly percussive in his work. This may have been a difficult decision for a drummer whose playing partners have included ex-Police guitarist Andy Summers, ex-Cream bassist Jack Bruce and The Velvet Underground. Still the drummer’s versatility has also allowed him to work successfully with Javanese gamelan bands, Ghanaian music ensembles, West Coast composer Lou Harrison and jazz bassist Steve Swallow.

With the entire concert CD created without prior discussion, you note the almost mind-reading qualities of the two musicians on a track like “Evident 3”, when Nauseef’s resonating bell-ringing tones are suddenly — and somehow — emulated and reflected by similar bell-like plucks from Léandre. Then she begins legato broken chording, amplifying the notes as she ranges over the strings and adding Asiatic-sounding panting vocalizing in unison with her arco feints.

Onomatopoeia treatments from the bassist, also include happy hiker whistles that meet rattling percussion from Nauseef, and are most pronounced on “Evident 5”. Here, after a virtuoso demonstration of her pizzicato effects, including expansive cello-range resonance and col legno salvos, Léandre unveils a quasi-dramatic recitation filled with sibilant intonations that constitute themselves into what could be a secret language. Instrumentally, these nonsense syllables are extended with the percussionist accompanying her with shuffling, unselected cymbals, resonation from a plastic cowbell and what honestly appears to be the battering of garbage can lids.

Unconventional percussion is Nauseef’s stock-in-trade throughout this session. Particular preference is shown to the varied tones that can be stuck on vertical chimes, the scrapes and slides that result from sharp objects grating against ride cymbals, and what sounds like the resonation of ping pong balls on a hard surface.

Not to be outdone, the bassist tosses off ponticello and shuffle bowing as regularly and inflates intense spiccato to the sounds of an entire string section. Accelerated fiddling often makes it appear as if she’s wearing the finish off her bass’s steel strings and her bow swoops have enough heft to create her own percussion, no matter what Nauseef is playing. In contrast, she can also come up a feather light line that’s so scrupulous vibrated that it could also arise from the pressure on a reed rather than on a string.

When a bassist and percussionist like these two get going, the contributions of other musicians aren’t missed at all.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Evident 1 2. Evident 2 3. Evident 3 4. Evident 4 5.Evident 5 6. Evident 6 7. Evident 7 8. Evident 8 9. Evident 9

Personnel: Joëlle Léandre (bass and voice); Mark Nauseef (percussion and found objects)