Joëlle Léandre/Rudolphe Loubatière

March 6, 2024

Confront Core 36

Joëlle Léandre
Zürich Concert
Intakt CD 402

Joëlle Léandre/Vinicius Cajado
Storm Dance
NotTwo MW 1035

Along with live gigs and  composing, the French doyen of creative double bass music was busy recording during 2022. At least that’s the impression given by these distinguished sessions. In March she recorded one of her heavyweight solo extravaganzas in Zürich; in October she was in Geneva playing with French snare drummer Rodolphe Loubatière, who has also worked with other innovators like Bertrand Gauguet; then in December she gave a duo concert in Vienna with much younger Brazilian double bassist Vinicius Cajado, who has also worked with artist as different as Franz Hautzinger and Golnar Shahyar.

Eminent as always in a solo bass recital, Léandre begins with measured low-pitch bowing but quickly creates an exposition built up from torqued col legno bounces, darkened and doubled string drones and squeals. By “Zurich Concert 3” she unveils novel surprises by transforming string twangs and rubs that seem to be stripping the finish from the strings to superfast spiccato bowing that then molds string pinches with vocalized bel canto yodeling. As droned glissandi and multi-string swirls reach a concentrated crescendo, her yelps, growls and speaking in tongues intensify at the same tempo and accelerating pitch as her strings. Climax arrives in the concluding “Zurich Concert 5” as animated string patterns work down the scale to become more restricted and relaxed. These single bow string-like pops slide into a defining narrative, with an affecting secondary theme slowly joining the first. More vocalizing and repeated thickening drones mark the finale.

With a monologue changing to dialogue, Estampe’s seven duets involve  patterns that unite Léandre’s extended techniques with those of Loubatière. Using only a snare drum he slides, screeches and thick rubs patterns that create a contrapuntal role beside the bassist’s thick and harsh power sweeps. At points it appears as if string pressure jolts are as percussive – or even more so – than the impacts of sticks and other implements on the drum surface. Breaking up the percussion punches with a cymbal edges rubbed against drum tops, bell-like clangs and rim wood clattering, this shading emboldens Léandre to rattle her strings even more with the result even louder as sul ponticello sweeps meet bumping rhythms from Loubatière. Later ratcheting and sweeping string strategies are joined by the bassist’s whispers, eerie panting and nonsense syllable mumbles. Maintaining the musical dialogue Léandre’s pressurized string slaps and buzzing sul tasto challenge the drummer’s crackles, clips and pumps even as vocals descend to pants and barks. Stretching string buzzes alongside simple percussion ruffs the two finally reach a sweeping understanding.

Working alongside another improvising bassist as she has frequently done in the past, it appears that Léandre’s adaptation of extended techniques has subsequently become so universal, that there are points during Storm Dance that it seems as if a single eight-string double bass is being played. The most obvious corollary to that is on “Fifth Dance”, where an eruption of Léandre’s unique scatting and bel canto shouts is accompanied by downwards string slakes while Cajado creates higher pitches. A more general rule of thumb may be that she is more likely to be using arco motifs – along with pizzicato pumps from the other hand – while he projects designated plucks. Coordinated multiple string expression among higher and lower-pitched tones, with varied tempos and pressure, mean that such distinguishing role aren’t always obvious. Although the verbal barks, yelps, rhythming nonsense syllables and panting gurgles are from Léandre’s alone, dual riffing responses that encompass chunky slaps and sliding squeals could come from either. Following an audience affirming finale, the subsequent “Sixth Dance” encore leads to echoes of more conventional string playing with the measured and linear melody confirming both their partnership and dual interest in stretching the double bass’ improvised parameters.

Solo or in different duos, the ingenuity and invention of Léandre and partners is aptly showcased on these discs.

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Zurich 1. Zurich Concert 1 2. Zurich Concert 2 3. Zurich Concert 3 4. Zurich Concert 4 5. Zurich Concert 5

Personnel: Zurich: Joëlle Léandre (bass)

Track Listing: Estampe 1. Estampe 1 2. Estampe 2 3. Estampe 3 4. Estampe 4 5. Estampe 5 6. Estampe 6 7. Estampe 7

Personnel: Estampe: Joëlle Léandre (bass) and Rudolphe Loubatière (snare drum)

Track Listing: Storm: 1. First Dance 2. Second Dance 3. Third Dance 4. Four Dance 5. Fifth Dance 6. Sixth Dance

Personnel: Storm: Joëlle Léandre (bass) and Vincius Cajado (bass)