Joëlle Léandre-Nicole Mitchell

Sisters Where
RogueArt ROG-0055

Joëlle Léandre-Vincent Courtois

Live at Kesselhaus Berlin

Jazzdor Series 01

Experienced in the art and science of erudite duo performances, French bassist Joëlle Léandre demonstrates both profundity and parody on these meetings with long-time associates. Recorded live about four months apart in Berlin or Paris, each CD has much to recommend it. However, perhaps it’s because the bassist is intent on matching the improvisational combustion sparked by the flute of American Nicole Mitchell, another musical polymath, that animated spirits seem more apparent on Sisters Where than Live at Kesselhaus Berlin. Not that that the latter CD, recorded with French cellist Vincent Courtois, is lacking in any way. It’s just that the exuberance expressed on Léandre’s home-town gig is more pronounced.

Courtois, who like Léandre, is conservatory-trained, works with the likes of bassist Claude Tchamitchian and clarinetist Louis Sclavis among others. Listed as seven sequences, but in reality a single improvisation, at least initially, this encounter concentrates on sympathetic counterpoint, with sweeping glissandi leading to serene melodiousness. The programs picks up about half way through. Before attaining powerful rasgueado in double counterpoint, the cellist starts twanging his instrument guitar-liked as the bassist creates a basso continuum. Things get livelier from then on.

With her string slaps becoming more staccato, Léandre unleashes a series of viola-pitched scratches at the same time as she starts hectoring and clucking at Courtois with a verbal mixture of yodeling and speaking-in-tongues. Unable to match her vocally, the cellist shores-up his game to such an extent that by the track’s end the blended strings sound like a dual between 12-string and six-string guitars.

However the real climax of the date arrives on the penultimate track and is extrapolated in the subsequent encore. During most of “Live 12’32” the bassist keeps the duet constantly exhilarating, as she constructs a burlesquer playlet to gently mock Courtois lapses into equally faux-Mittle-European romanticism. Vocalizing as both lyric soprano and growly baritone, Léandre sardonically detours Courtois’ lyrical string swelling with a pulsating rhythmic sweep. Eventually, using string-pinching to propel more discordant lines, the two nimbly, chromatically and satisfactorily blend timbres.

Crucially, while the bassist would never describe herself as a Jazz player, the sonorous thrust of Mitchell’s gritty flute expositions on the other CD finds Léandre swiping and shaking her string in a Jazz-like approximation. No more a contest than the Léandre-Courtois due is, as the American and French improvisers relax into a playful interface, the dual sequences become magnificently focused. Part of this stems from both players’ use of descriptive multiphonics. Bounding throughout with tones ranging from mercurial to mellow, the flutist sounds strident peeps and low-pitched blusters with the same ease, encouraging the creation of string tones that range from violin-pitched stridency to sonorous basso glissandi. At the same time whereas the bull fiddler’s vocals may be inhabited by everything from bel canto warmth to an Aix-en-Provence variant on gospel melisma, Mitchell’s flute sound is almost vocally human.

By the time “Sisters on Mars” arrives the flutist’s expelled air swells to more vigorously agitate shrills in order to match the bassist’s triple-stopping friction. Simultaneously both reflect the improvisation’s bellicose character. Before the obligatory encore, the concluding “Sisters on Saturn” moves into undefined improvisatory deep space. Bull fiddle glissandi are properly discordant while the flutist appears to be squeaking in the most elevated altissimo register. With certain tones becoming almost Theremin-like and others making it appear as if double-tracking is being used – it isn’t – the cosmos suite is finally satiated, while the sul ponticello sweeps and dissonant chirps dissolve. “Back on Earth”, the encore and coda, reintroduces string thumping and frilly bubbling, but the real climax has already occurred.

Regardless of the instrument involved or the gender of the associate, the French bassist again proves her creative strength and malleability.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Live: 1. Live 3’20 2. Live 3’31 3. Live 5’14 4. Live 2’31 6. Live 12’32 7. Live 8’43

Personnel: Live: Vincent Courtois (cello) and Joëlle Léandre- (bass)

Track Listing: Sisters: 1. Sisters on Venus 2. Sisters on Uranus 3. Sisters on Mercury 4. Sisters on Mars 5. Sisters on Saturn 6. Back on Earth

Personnel: Sisters: Nicole Mitchell (flute and alto flute.) and Joëlle Léandre (bass)