JOËLLE LÉANDRE/INDIA COOKE

Firedance
Red Toucan # RT 9327

STEVE LACY/JOËLLE LÉANDRE
One More Time
Leo Records CD LR 422

Partnerships new and old, each of these fine CDs feature French bassist Joëlle Léandre bonding musically with an American. Both prove that the versatile Paris-based low-pitched string player can adapt and amplify unique timbres produced by other players who have little in common besides birthplace.

Fittingly each was recorded outside the United States. On ONE MORE TIME, her main man is the late soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy, with the CD recorded in Brussels during one of the longtime expatriate’s farewell to Europe concerts before he relocated to Boston. FIREDANCE finds the bull fiddler at the Guelph (Ontario) Jazz Festival matching licks with Bay-area violinist India Cooke. Léandre’s longtime experience with outside string slingers like Lisbon’s Carlos Zingaro makes her the perfect foil for Cooke, who has played with advanced bassists like Canadian Lisle Ellis. Both also worked with trombonist George Lewis.

Poignant, especially after you hear Lacy’s complimentary telephone message to Léandre that is its final track, the CD is doubly valuable because it’s one of the saxman’s final documents before his death in 2004. But after a half-century as an improviser Lacy was no sentimentalist. He praises the duo work because he knows how good it is.

One of the reasons the French bassist with the classical background and the dyed-in-the-wool American Free Jazzman worked so well together was a shared understanding of performance and links to their respective instruments. Part of “One More Time 3”, for instance, features Léandre’s skewed bass licks introduced by a bit of music hall-like scat singing. The fit is perfect as is Lacy’s half-sung/half-spoken exhortation for “one more time” at the beginning of the tune. More vaudeville than concert hall, its very cadences mirror his distinctive gravelly horn chirps when he finally concentrates on the saxophone.

Someone who never lost sight of the song form, as benefits a discipline of Thelonious Monk, there are points in this recital that you swear there’s a show tune lurking somewhere inside Lacy’s improvisation. This tendency and so much more is displayed on the more-than-32-minute first track.

Ricocheting between broken octaves and double counterpoint, the two musicians finesse a collection of repeated notes, slurs, squirming vibrations, trills and slides. When he modulates towards coloratura, she stands her ground with staccato sweeps. Should he sideslip and flutter-tongue, she retorts with sul tasto patterning and by striking the bass’s ribs and belly. Following a few duck-like quacks he fades into the background at midpoint, allowing her to use tremolo multiphonics to involve all her strings in steady architectural motions. Returning to the fray, tooting and triple-tonguing, the reedist’s tongue stops and trills are backed with sul tasto bowing that creates extra textural graininess. Eventually his falsetto cries bring forth sul ponticello stopping from her lowest strings, as the two finally resolve the piece with a simultaneous climax.

If despite the gaps, ONE MORE TIME seems all of a part, then FIREDANCE is definitely divided into seven sections. Also despite the early hour – the concert began at 10:30 a.m.– and unlike the bittersweet Lacy meeting, the Cooke- Léandre get-together was so celebratory, that the fiddler was emboldened to try tap dancing on the polished wooden floor at the beginning of track five.

More evenly matched than the bassist and saxophonist, the two players not only produce every sort of string permutations, but are moved to verbalization every so often. Cooke’s vocal expressions at one point resemble shamanistic speaking-in-tongues, while Léandre’s could be cattle drive wrangler whoops.

Individually, their techniques run from bumble bee-like spiccato chording from the violinist to sonorous, wide-ranging sweeps and plucks from the double bassist. Together the expansions can move from staccato runs to basso construction that appears to involve the instruments’ tail pieces as much as the lower-pitched strings. Comfortable with one another, often both apply enough torque to their strings so that the resulting timbres concentrate into dense polyharmony. Additionally, when Léandre vibrates her instrument’s highest points and Cooke’s her axe’s lowest, distinguishing one from the other is nearly impossible.

Remaining a European, the bassist, who always insists that she’s never played “jazz” is linked to Continental New music when she stops her upper partials to create multiphonics. Conversely, when the fiddler implies different textures, they’re definitely American – her pizzicato strums are as deliberate as are those from a Bluegrass banjo picker. Similarly, when lyrical arco cadenzas slide down the scale to become bravura blues runs, the styling of jug-band fiddlers like Butch Cage comes to mind.

Since their initial Guelph encounter Cooke and Léandre have had several more musical meetings, with this CD severing as a high-class calling card. Although Léandre will never play with Lacy again, at least we have the other CD to remember their classy teamwork.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Firedance: 1. Firedance 1 2. Firedance 2 3.Firedance 3 4. Firedance 5. Firedance 6. Firedance 6 7. Firedance 7

Personnel: Firedance: India Cooke (violin); Joëlle Léandre (bass)

Track Listing: One: 1. One More Time 1 2. One More Time 2 3. One More Time 3 4. Phone message

Personnel: One: Steve Lacy (soprano saxophone); Joëlle Léandre (bass)