Joëlle Léandre & Kevin Norton

Winter in New York - 2006
Leo Records CD LR 499

Proving once again that the limitations of musical improvisation are only what can’t be imagined, French bassist Joëlle Léandre and American percussionist Kevin Norton combine for a live set that utilize every timbre of their respective instruments.

Norton finds unique and unexpected textures, rhythms and tones to whack, stroke, pulse and pop as he moves among standard drum kit, vibraphone, bells and other miscellaneous percussion during these eight variations on a theme. His occasional trans-oceanic collaborator, Léandre has revelled in similar meetings since the early 1980s. Strumming, bowing and thumping the heavy instrument’s strings and wood, plus scatting conspiratorially at times, the bassist’s command of double bass vocabulary in such that every percussion challenge is handed with aplomb.

Often shifting the tonal centre and sliding from staccato to stop-time in an instant, the two quickly establish an interlocking strategy. Should Norton pulse connective tremors with his vibes, then Léandre saws thick col legno lines. If she concentrates on

sul ponticello sweeps and sways, then he shakes bells, strikes cymbals and worries single tones half speed, causing an instantaneous double tempo of sways and spiccato vibrations. With Norton immediately able to utilize a variety of percussion tools – frequently to play one after another in quick succession – Léandre often pitches voluptuous sul tasto thrusts until a shrill single line partial is exposed, reverberating on its own until joined by the percussionist’s scrapes and scuffs.

A dialogue not a contest, the fervor and intensity with which the two bring to this meeting make this a Winter’s tale that often bears retelling.

— Ken Waxman

— For CODA Issue 336