For Flowers
Leo CD LR 394

Finding French bassist Joëlle Léandre involved in an ad-hoc improvising situation with unexpected musical partners is so common as to be customary. She’s someone equally at home dissecting notated pieces by John Cage with Japanese musician as playing Free Music with a mixture of Europeans and Americans. What is remarkable is her partners on this eight-track CD recorded at a jazz festival.

While French drummer Christophe Marguet is a new acquaintance, she regularly plays with other percussionists. However, except for a couple of instances, electro-acoustic sounds haven’t been a part of her discography. Which makes so noticeable the presence of Joel Ryan on computer-based electronics, who is usually part of reedist Evan Parker’s Electro-Acoustic Ensemble. Even more conspicuous is American violinist Mat Maneri. Born into improv — his father is microtonal reedist Joe — Maneri usually sticks to the ecstatic side of jazz, gigging with the likes of pianist Mathew Shipp and bassist William Parker, while the bassist’s usual fiddle sidekick is Lisbon's Carlos Zingaro.

With improvised music the art of never doing the same thing once, this new team makes FOR FLOWERS fascinating, as well as a bit disappointing. For despite deluxe contributions all around, relative unfamiliarity means that Maneri doesn’t yet connect with Léandre as Zingaro does.

You can note this most distinctly on “Iris”, the almost 14 minute final track. As Maneri’s ascending timbres shimmer, helped by Ryan’s electronic voodoo, he’s interrupted by polyrhythmic plucks from Léandre. Staccato, diffuse jettes from the fiddler bring forth such percussive smacks on the tailpiece and strings from the bassist that Marguet joins in with press rolls, maraca-like rattles and bell-pealing cymbal thwacks. Soon shuffle-bowing ponticello lines are echoing through the air courtesy of Ryan, as the two string-slingers finally mesh. A crescendo of augmented tones and scraped cadenzas are sounded in different staves from the violin and bull fiddle, until the electronic pulse helps deconstruct the downstrokes into a legato union.

Ryan’s MVP status is confirmed throughout, since it’s often hard to distinguish which soaring timbres are helped by his dial twisting and which are actually direct to disc. He’s most prominent on “Crocus”, where it’s obvious that some of those sounds must be electronically manipulated. Léandre’s skills are such that it’s most likely she that creates what appears to be replication of small animals scampering on the belly and waist of her bass. But she’s hasn’t yet figured out how to create laser gun whizzes. These futuristic extensions fit well with the hand drumming style Marguet exhibits on this track and others. Restrained, he often appears to be polishing his kit rather than assaulting it. But the modest textures he produces are more appropriate than any aggressive drumming would be.

Other places, when the string players meet with extended caprices and double- stopping harmonies the results are admirable. On “Tulips”, for instance legit glissandos from Maneri turn to scraped heavy metal, made more atonal by electronic reverb and distortion that extends and reimages the notes. This encourages the bassist to begin vocalizing as she plays, whispering nonsense monosyllables that are half way between lyric soprano and orgasmic cry. Finally, a just-out-of-earshot, organ-like chord gradually reveals itself as an arco string accompaniment, first played by Maneri than expanded by Ryan.

The CD is much more than a clash between moderato microtonalism on one hand and broken cadenzas on the other. But when one tune dissolves into lugubriousness, you sense something missing. Fans of Léandre and Maneri may appreciate it more and for different reasons. But it looks like a rematch is in order.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Hibiscus 2. White Lily 3. Water lily 4. Violet 5. Crocus 6. Tulips 7. Lilac & Red Poppy 8. Iris

Personnel: Mat Maneri (violin); Joëlle Léandre (bass and voice); Christophe Marguet (drums); Joel Ryan (computer-based electronics)