It is quite rare to find recordings of composed works by French double-bassist Joëlle Léandre. Léandre has gained a justified reputation as an innovative virtuoso of the double-bass, a masterful free improviser, and as an imaginative collaborator, mostly in small, intimate outfits. This double-disc set, with its first half featuring Léandre's composed work for a tentet, is one of the treats that Léandre is releasing to celebrate her upcoming 60th birthday.
This recording was captured on two consecutive nights at the 2009 Ulrichsberger Kaleidophon festival, in Austria. Léandre dedicated her composed piece, "Can You Hear Me?," to her mother and her late father. While it is a highly personal piece, it is also very political: personal, in the sense that it represents Léandre's huge musical experience, ranging from her performances of new, often controversial compositions by such avant-garde, trailblazing composers as Pierre Boulez and John Cage
, to the breadth of her original musical language, and references that encompass classical music, jazz, free jazzeven elements that sound like progressive rock. Also represented is her affinity for humor, drama, theater and operatic, poetic singing, and one of the most important characteristic of her personality a wild and inventive imagination.
It is also a very political piece, not only because of its commanding title, but because this work represents what Léandre has stood up for throughout her career. She holds outspoken opinions against the traditional role of the double-bass, even in modern ensembles. According to Léandre, any tradition, musical or political, should always be challenged. Léandre always rebelled against the power structures in music, and quite often shared her thoughts about snobby composers. In this composition she offers a different, democratic-based structure, where every member of the tentet can find enough room and space to articulate their own personal creativity and voice, often literally.
It is also a very emotional and passionate piece. Léandre navigates the tentet between moods, building tension and deconstructing it with powerful, chaotic eruptions. She references modern compositional techniques, and even enjoys playing walking bass lines. The joy of players is apparent as trumpeter Lorenz Raab, guitarist Burkhard Stangl
and percussionist Kevin Norton
shine and invent their improvised parts within the overall framework. Often this work sounds strange, as if it were about to disintegrate under the wealth of compositional ideas, but Léandre knows how to tie all the elements into a coherent, thematic framework.
The second disc is a freely improvised and contemplative trio piece with pianist John Tilbury
, and Norton, on vibes and percussion. Its minimalist, dream-like quality sounds like an extension of the compositional techniques of the late American composer Morton Feldman
with whom Léandre worked in the '70sor of the sound investigations of the British free-improvisation group AMM. The static, spare atmosphere of this piece is interrupted by patient, dramatic gestures by Léandre. The unique beauty of this masterful improvisation and delicate interplay is fully realized in its magical, meditative sounds.