Joelle Leandre: Duos with William Parker and George Lewis

Eyal Hareuveni By

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French double bassist Joelle Leandre needs no introduction. She has gained a legendary status as one of the best free improvisors of recent decades, always ready for new challenges and opportunities to perfect her art. These two arresting recordings, both totally improvised, with close comrades double bassist William Parker and trombone player George Lewis, offer two different angles on such well-fulfilled opportunities.

Joelle Leandre & William Parker
Live At Dunois
Leo Records

Since their first recorded duo collaboration, Contrabasses (Leo, 1998), 11 years ago, Leandre and Parker have trodden different but often close roads. Leandre, more often a loner, has perfected her solo work and opted for small outfits, usually duos and trios, while always finding new collaborators. Parker has become a leader of much larger ensembles, some of them are ongoing projects such as his quartet and the Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra. This project, recorded at Sons D'Hiver festival in France on January 2009, enables both of them to present the essence of their art—passionate, intensive and always imaginative explorations of the double bass.

The six tracks feature the duo's varied methods of communication. Leandre uses the arco more than Parker, and adds her operatic voice, but often both sound as one. Deep in their intimate and intensive low-end conversations, responding fast to each other's gestures, commenting and answering, enriching their musical discourse. This is a very dark colored conversation: busy, sometimes volcanic and as muscular as you might expect from a duo of bull fiddles. There are some surprising sparks of humor on "4," and especially on "6," where both sound as though rubbing their instruments. But, still, it is a sympathetic and compassionate conversation. Like a heated talk between two friends who have missed each other, clearly not willing to subscribe to each other perspectives, but open and eager to understand the other's narrative.

Joelle Leandre/George Lewis
Transatlantic Visions
Rogue Art

This is a totally different kind of conversation. Much more provocative and cerebral, but quite funny. Recorded at the 2008 Vision Festival in New York, excerpts were already captured on Leandre's DVD Basse Continue (Hors Oeil Editions, 2008). Leandre and Lewis have known each other more than 30 years; after seeing Leandre for the first time in London, Lewis concluded: "You're totally crazy. You have to meet [guitarist] Derek Bailey."

Lewis' observation is still valid. This duet is wild, sneaks into myriad bypasses and imaginative sub-plots busy with flowing ideas, and sounds as if the two musicians are courting and enchanting each other. Sometimes it is dramatic in an almost romantic manner, often rich in humorous and ironic gestures, as both sound like they enjoy teasing and challenging the other. It is always a very emotional meeting of well-articulated minds.

This captivating duet presents a close and sympathetic bond between two master improvisers—on intellectual, emotional and even political levels. They have through the years developed an almost telepathic interplay. Both are rebels who do not follow musical conventions but invent their own fluid rules. All is possible and each musical expression, be it serious or ridiculous, is valid and has a role in this nuanced conversation. Leandre and Lewis succeed in offering a cohesive musical statement, one that is hilarious, challenging and inspiring. Magnificent.

Tracks and Personnel

Live At Dunois

Tracks: 1; 2; 3; 4; 5; 6.

Personnel: Joelle Leandre: bass, voice; William Parker: bass.

Transatlantic Visions

Tracks: Transatlantic Visions I; Transatlantic Visions II; Transatlantic Visions III; Transatlantic Visions IV; Transatlantic Visions V; Transatlantic Visions VI; Transatlantic Visions VII.

Personnel: Joelle Leandre: double bass, voice; George Lewis: trombone.

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