Joëlle Léandre & India Cooke

No Business Records NBCD 18

United in the campaign to sustain a continuous Free Music role for two traditional stringed instruments, French bassist Joëlle Léandre and American violinist India Cooke demonstrate their commitment on this 2008 Denver-recorded gig. Only their third live show as a duo, the technical and analytical qualities that made their CD from the 2004 Guelph Jazz Festival such a standout are still very much in evidence

Paris-based Léandre is, of course, one of the doyens of European improvised music, having worked with major stylists ranging from saxophonist Steve Lacy and guitarist Derek Bailey to trombonist George Lewis. Cooke on the other hand, is an academic affiliated with California’s Mill College, although the few times she has recorded, it has been in the company of heavy hitters such as bassist Lisle Ellis or saxophonist Larry Ochs. Creating together on four instant compositions plus two solo improvisations, the two express distinctive individuality and demonstrate how unique sonic sensibilities can be coupled. Overall one apparent serendipitous strategy is how both women appear to create as many textures from the wood of their respective instruments as they do from the strings.

On unaccompanied tracks each also displays a distinct bravura style. But single inventions include unexpected inflections as well. On her own, for instance, while Cooke’s grounding in African-American spirituals remains a leitmotif, her use of polyphonic spiccato and emphasized flying staccato lines create sounds which appear to take as much from hoedown fiddling as legato chamber music. Her melancholy and balladic creations are especially notable when staccatissimo and fortissimo triple stopping, scrubbed sul tasto, evolve alongside near-vocal string melisma.

For her part, Léandre`s grounding in the legit European tradition has long been embellished by other advanced techniques familiar from Free Music. Frequently thickening her ground bass friction with downward runs, forced double stops and pressurized string partials, she too creates a parallel parlando when playing. Her vocal interjections range from treble warbling to faux basso hums, usually emphasized with bulky string slaps.

Improvising together, the two’s individual multiphonic tendencies are exacerbated. “Journey 4” for instance begins with splayed double stopping and walking from Léandre so that she seems to be playing a blues progression. Meanwhile Cooke interjects mandolin-like pizzicato twanging until an extended interlude where dual layered string friction finally divides into expected low-pitched and high-pitched roles. By the conclusion the theme has become methodical and melodious simultaneously.

Verbalization and staccato counterpoint appear on the concluding “Journey 6”. Following an episode of musically evoking each other’s names, both players busy themselves with a paroxysm of sibilant stops and strident glissandi. Thickening the contrapuntal interaction through plucked pizzicato, each manages to complement the others tones without either playing a secondary role as accompanist to the other.

This knockout example of duo cooperation from the French and American players makes one hope a future reunion disc won’t have to wait for another half-decade.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Journey I 2. Journey II 3. Journey III 4. Journey IV 5. Journey V 6.

Journey VI

Personnel: India Cooke (violin) and Jöelle Léandre (bass)