Tiger Trio

Boklet notes for RogueArt ROG00074

Although double bassist Joëlle Léandre’s music has always been as French as the Eiffel Tower, for four decades she has been open to collaborations with improvisers from other countries, especially the United States. So it’s no surprise to find her partners on this Paris concerto pianist Myra Melford and flutist Nicole Mitchell, who are both now based on the US West Coast. Without putting too fine a point on it, the sonic affiliation displayed with this Euro-American trio also mark another theme which the bassist has bolstered over the years: championing the profound skills women musicians can express in improvised music. Although Léandre has throughout her career made it a point to perform with players of many nationalities, ages and genders – ranging from elders such as guitarist Derek Bailey and saxophonist Daunik Lazro to then-tyros like clarinetist François Houle and violinist Theo Ceccaldi – some of her most outstanding work has been in the company of other female performers or in all-women bands. The best-known entity of course is Les Diaboliques, the long-running trio she pilots alongside pianist Irène Schweizer, and vocalist Maggie Nicols. But her sessions in the company of other sophisticated female sound experimenters encompass meetings with such innovators as violinist India Cooke, percussionist Danielle P. Roger, pianist Marilyn Crispell and singer Lauren Newton.

Léandre has toured extensively and recorded with Mitchell, the first female president of Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, who now teaches University of California, Irvine. Melford, who has led seminal bands of many sizes, met and played with the double bassist a few times during one of Léandre’s stints giving master classes at Mills College in Oakland, Calif. Melford, who now teaches at nearby University of California, Berkeley invited Léandre and Mitchell to perform with her at a San Francisco jazz festival. “I invited the same band to record in Paris,” says Léandre, explaining the genesis of the art gallery concert preserved on this disc.

Putting aside considerations of gender, race, nationality, age and anthropomorphism – how fierce should a musical tiger trio be? – the three produce unique, affirmative music that demands no qualifiers. While the instrumentation on these 10 tracks is standard for chamber music, the allusions reference jazz technique and freedom as much as so-called classical music formalism and precision. Case in point is the penultimate tune. Lively and swinging, hard-blowing flute vibrations, col legno string slaps and percussive pedal pressure inflate the theme so that an unexpected variety of sonic tints are apparent from the instruments. Eventually double-time double bass stops, sharp oral exhalation from the flute and repetative keyboard thumping sweep the narrative to a pinnacle before relaxing into solace. Throughout the CD, the players occasionally allude to other musics, from the near-baroque pianism on track one, strengthened to frisky motion by a thickened bass continuum, to a sequence on track five where Mitchell’s lower-case sour tones mix with twanging multiphonics from the double bass strings as if this trope is actually a duet between a Japanese bamboo nohkan and a multi-string biwa.

Although harsh and vigorous tone comparisons resonate throughout the set, simpler harmonies and melodies make their appearance as well, with some themes strummed, peeped and deflected with nursery rhyme-like simplicity. Intermittently, the trio fractures into duos, with, for instance, Mitchell’s exquisite glissandi meeting Léandre’s string pops and verbal aides. Instructively though, it often takes further intervention in the form of knife-shaped keyboard prodding to repair any lapses from the collective mosaic-like unity. A fine instance of that is on track eight where a bright refrain is stitched together from Mitchell’s oboe tone resembling barks, Léandre’s rubbed string kinetics and Melford’s key clipping.

A live concert performance, this CD’s final track is also its climax. Following a simultaneous exhibition of clanking piano chords, flute yelps and flying string sawing, the free-form timbres meld and dissipate into cumulative relief. At the conclusion the audience’s protracted applause confirms the elation felt by those in attendance. Without visuals of course, as listeners you can share that experience on this CD.

Ken Waxman


Toronto/September 2016