Thomas Buckner/Joëlle Léandre/Nicole Mitchell

Flowing Stream
Leo Records CD LR 701

By Ken Waxman

Unconventionality is a state of mind. If it’s possible to create an improvising duo with just flute and double bass, then why not add a baritone singer to the ensemble? Flowing Stream proves that exemplary sounds can result from such a set up. One of the many ensembles in which American flautist Nicole Mitchell and French bassist Joëlle Léandre participate, their existing duo is joined by baritone Thomas Buckner on a dozen tracks. Specialist in sound-singing, unexpected overtones and extended techniques, the vocalist divides his time between interpreting contemporary notated music and improvising with the likes of Roscoe Mitchell.

Buckner’s tone fluency melds with the others’ strategies as early as the first track as his shamanistic warbles bring out the vocal quality of Mitchell’s flute. From then on his chameleonic oral variants fashion the pitches required to decisively expand any arrangement, whether otherwise dependent on Léandre’s trenchant plucks and bow swipes or the sound of the flautist’s elevated pitches. For instance on “Take 10b” Buckner produces the same bounce in his throat as the bassist does from her strings using spiccato technique. On the concluding “Take 11c”, his oral ululations provide the warm harmonies to bond with staccato bass lines and shrilling flute tones. Overall the cumulative effects are startling as well as comforting in their cohesion.

As Léandre often adds her bel canto warbling to the interaction, there are points at which the splayed yelps and panting murmurs could come from either player. More tellingly, until her tone softens and his descends to strangled gurgles on “Take 10c Trio” it’s difficult to distinguish Mitchell’s wispy flute chirps from Buckner’s vibrating peeps. When Buckner’s low-pitched melodiousness replaces Léandre’s harsh string rubs to “Take 8b”; or his folkloric keening takes on the altissimo role in duet with the bassist’s multiphonic string finesse; the connection seems cemented.

It’s a credit to Buckner’s sympathetic contributions that on the one track where only the flautist and bassist create a luminous interface, the result sounds as if it’s lacking a necessary element.

Tracks: Take 6b Trio; Take 6c Trio; Take 6d Trio; Take 7b Flute & Bass; Take 8b Flute & Voice; Take 9a Bass & Voice; Take 10a Trio; Take 10b Trio; Take 10c Trio; Take 11a Trio; Take 11b Trio; Take 11c Trio

Personnel: Nicole Mitchell: flute; Joëlle Léandre: bass; Thomas Buckner: voice

—For The New York City Jazz Record September 2014