Joëlle Léandre

At The Le Mans Jazz Festival
Leo CD LR 458/459

Versatile French bassist Joëlle Léandre can always be counted upon to be dependable in her contributions to any improvisation as well as flexible in her choice of musical partners.

Starting in the early 1980s, she has performed in Europe, Asia and North America, with improv masters, innovative Free players from different cultures and younger musicians who need more exposure. Recorded during one five-day period, this two-CD set showcases her playing in five different contexts with new and old collaborators and with predictably impressive results.

Interestingly enough, both duets here are with Americans – New York bassist William Parker and Bay area violinist India Cooke, both of whom she has recorded with in the past. Cooke who has played with originals like trombonist George Lewis and Sun Ra brings a certain willowy lyricism to her meeting. Warm, and broad, her fiddle strokes are expansive; she often constructs mini-themes while Léandre provides the technical ballast. Elsewhere, thick double stopping on the Frenchwoman’s part causes Cooke to pick away chromatically or squeeze out spiccato arco lines.

Often working in double counterpoint, the Parker meeting on the other hand, rebounds from technical to folkloric displays and back again. At points mutual multiphonics intersect polyrhythmically, and then split, with one bassist opting for shrill string glissandi and the other for basso, shuffle-bowed vibrations. Adding the instrumental sounds of a whistle to his string-stroking, Parker’s other improvisations move past Afro-American inferences so that the two together suggest the Pan-Asian textures of a pipa and a dizi.

Even more spectacular are the creation of two European aggregations constituted by players with whom Léandre works individually. The quartet completed by Italian trombonist Sebi Tramontana, Portuguese violinist Carlos Zingaro and German percussionist Paul Lovens is particularly noteworthy. Beyond Lovens’ unerring yet understated sense of time and Tramontana’s homage to early Jazz with gutbucket slurs, it’s Zingaro’s fiddling that defines the collaboration. More tremolo and definitely more formal than Cooke’s technique, his sweeping portamento, double-stopping and contrapuntal associations encourage the bassist to turn irregular string slaps into pedal- point ostinato. Coupled with Lovens’ pin-pointed cymbal maneuvers and intermittent drum patterns, this polyrhythmic interface ties the disparate parts into one pulsating, staccato affiliation.

Partnering another percussionist – Swiss Mark Nauseef who also plays electronics – and German trumpeter Markus Stockhausen, Léandre responds in a contradictory manner. Although both men have connections to contemporary so-called serious music – as does Léandre – her rubber-band-like vibrations and widely space drones guide the others closer to improvisation. Especially problematic are Stockhausen’s weedy muted notes that seem to reflect Miles Davis’ lyricism without his fire.

To counter this shortcoming, the bassist bows warmly and harmonically underneath his elongated grace notes. Stretching out legato patterns that are echoed by the ping of Nauseef’s gongs and the steady clicking and tapping of his electronics, she gets the brassman to slur plunger tones. Genially mocking his legato output, she uses thick string pops plus contrapuntal double stops and vocalization to turn the group improvisation outward.

Vocalization also figures into the remaining match-up with Léandre performing as part of the long-running Les Diaboliques trio with Swiss pianist Irène Schweizer and Scottish vocalist Maggie Nicols. Unfortunately, this didn’t seem to be one of the band’s better nights. Although the bassist’s col legno squeaks and wood-rending strokes plus the pianist’s sliding glissandi and deliberately raggy syncopation maintain momentum, it’s the singer’s mumbles, lilts and shrills that command centre stage.

Moving between pseudo-Scottish speaking-in-tongues and lyric soprano warbling, Nicols ranges all over the tunes without ever settling into the sort profound onomatopoeia she sometimes spontaneously creates in full flight. Neither Schweitzer’s theatrical low-frequency runs or Léandre’s sul ponticello swells and accompanying vocalization keeps the singer focused and away from stream-of-consciousness, chicken-clucking dialogue in English, French and Gaelic.

Except for these two tracks – which are isolated at the beginning of disc one and do have the virtue of interesting work from the pianist and bassist – the rest of At The Le Mans Jazz Festival is unreservedly prime Léandre. Any of the other performances speak to her versatility, inventiveness and flexibility.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Disc 1: 1. Meeting One 2. Meeting Two 3.Meeting Three 4.Meeting Four 5. Meeting Five Disc 2: 1. Just Now One 2. Just Now Two 3. Just Now Three 4. Just Now Four 5. Just Now Five 6. Just Now Six 7. Just Now Seven 8. Just Now Eight 9. Just Now Nine

Personnel: Les Diaboliques: Irène Schweizer (piano); Joëlle Léandre (bass) and Maggie Nicols (voice) [disc 1, tracks 1, 2]; Joëlle Léandre (bass) and William Parker (bass and whistle) [disc 1 tracks 3-5] India Cooke (violin) and Joëlle Léandre (bass) [disc 2 tracks 1-3] Markus Stockhausen (trumpet); Joëlle Léandre (bass) and Mark Nauseef (percussion and electronics) [disc 2 tracks 4, 5] Sebi Tramontana (trombone); Carlos Zingaro (violin); Joëlle Léandre (bass) and Paul Lovens (drums and percussion) [disc 2 tracks 6-9]