Two Bass Hits

Trio Léandre/Derome/Roger and Quartetski Does Prokofiev perform Montreal concerts

Trio Léandre/Derome/Roger

La Salle Rosa

Montreal March 25, 2008

Quartetski Does Prokofiev

Casa del Popolo

Montreal March 26, 2008

Bass set the pace in Montreal on two weeknights in late March. This was the result of Paris-based Joëlle Léandre performing as part of an ad-hoc trio in concert at converted social hall La Salle Rosa the night before local bassist, Pierre-Yves Martel, played across Boulevard St. Laurent at the more relaxed Casa del Popolo club, exhibiting the sort of genre-bursting freedom won for younger string players like himself by pioneers like Léandre, as his Quartetski Does Prokofiev extended its interpretations of the material on its eponymously named CD. The connection was even stronger, since the peripatetic Parisian, stopping off between gigs in New York and Paris actually played on Martel’s bass.

Many times at the Salle Rosa it seemed as if Léandre – described in promotional material as une grande dame de la musique improvisée – and who made a suitably tardy diva-like entrance after the other two had set up – was more involved in duo playing than cohesive trio work. This is understandable, however, since the uninhibited Frenchwoman approaches every musical challenge head-on, smacking her strings with her bow, slithering all over its body to spear illusive notes and often murmuring and chanting in a combination of French and invented language as she plays.

In contrast to Léandre’s maximal approach, the locals, percussionist Danielle Palardy Roger and saxophonist/flautist Jean Derome, although expansive as part of Quebec’s experimental Musique Actuelle scene were almost minimalists. It may depend on hitting the proper groove: Derome had only played once before with the bassist; and while Roger and Léandre recorded a duo disc that was in 1999.

Nonetheless, as the concert evolved, disparate pieces locked into place with the Québécois players taking more risks and bassist’s excesses harnassed. At one point Roger and Léandre indulged in a silent duet, the percussionist waves the yoke from one drum top in the air as the bassist responds with an equally unheard rapier-like air slice with her bow.

Moving among flute, contrabass flute, alto and baritone saxophones, Derome is anything but mute and frequently trades his instruments’ innate harmoniousness for dissonant cries. Romantic flute lines invariably give way to fripple percussiveness, while tongue slapping, bow bellowing and vibrato whoops and gasps characterize his saxophone strategy. Although Roger prefers tapping cymbals with her palms, scraping a ratchet with fingernails, drum stick buzzes on unattached cymbals and maraca shaking to gargantuan drum thumps by the finale the three build up to an Energy Music-styled admixture, driven in part by a descending blues line from Derome and thumping, spiccato strokes from Léandre. An encore is pure tension-relief with the reedist creating all sorts of mouth sounds from Bronx cheers to shrilling a slide whistle and a duck call.

No timbre was as rowdy the subsequent evening across the street, although drummer Isaiah Ceccarelli wasn’t averse to shaking a sound tree or producing doubled percussion by scraping a cow bell on his snare. Martel sometimes rubbed his palms and scrapped his fingernails on his bass’s wood when he wasn’t slapping its string sul tasto; trumpeter Gordon Allen produces melismatic heraldic cries or echoing plunger tones; while Phillipe Lauzier played a few choruses with a plumber’s helped screwed on top of his alto saxophone bell.

Maintaining the Prokofiev premise however meant that Lauzier used his soprano saxophone and bass clarinet to elaborate the composer’s themes for improvisation, with harmonic converge among his timbres and those of Allen often buoyed by perfectly formed arco bass lines. Ceccarelli’s distinctive press roll and modified march tempo was called into service as well. Many times during the performance the material appeared to be simultaneously faithful to the originals, rhythmically foot tapping and illuminated with avant-garde asides and expansions.

Whether the improvisation involved Lauzier buzzing colored air from his saxophone, striated tremolos from Allen or squeaks or smacks from Martel’s bass strings the heads were invariably re-capped. Of course the suspicion remained that the theme interpretation, whether it revolved around the creepy timbres tones heard in a haunted Charlie Chaplin-like walk may have originated more with Quartetski than Prokofiev.

—Ken Waxman

— For CODA Issue 339