Joelle Leandre: Last Seen Headed (Live at Sons D’Hiver); Trace & Duo (Heidelberg Loppem) 2007


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Joëlle Léandre/François Houle/Raymond Strid

Last Seen Headed (Live at Sons D'Hiver)



Joëlle Léandre/Maguelone Vidal/Raymond Boni


Red Toucan


Anthony Braxton/Joëlle Léandre

Duo (Heidelberg Loppem) 2007



Bassist Joëlle Léandre is a quintessential representative of the connection between free improvisation and European classical music. The early stages of her career are noteworthy for her close associations with composers Giacinto Scelsi, Pierre Boulez and John Cage, though over the last 20 years she has increasingly emphasized her work as an improviser. For years Léandre has been certainly one of the preeminent instrumentalists in creative music, often performing in duos and small ensembles with such artists as Derek Bailey, George Lewis, Marilyn Crispell and many others.

Léandre's trio with Vancouver clarinetist Francois Houle and Swedish percussionist Raymond Strid on Last Seen Headed represents a continuation of some longstanding associations. Houle is a master at highlighting the sonic properties that lie in the cracks between conventional implementation of a clarinet reed. At any moment his contributions shift from mellifluous to granulated, suddenly sounding closer to electronically-synthesized sounds than any known acoustical phenomenon. Strid's playing generally directs the group towards more freewheeling aggression, though he remains an attentive listener and does just as much to promote the exploration of subtlety, offering some of the most effective entrances and exits by an improviser on record. Houle and Léandre generally remain constant while Strid often opts to lay out, waiting for the perfect moment to come in, either to signal a new direction or add to the established texture. This is the trio's second release and evidently they have plenty of shared experience upon which to build, as the ensemble deftly and seamlessly generates a vast palette of color.

Trace features Léandre in a trio with saxophonist Maguelone Vidal and guitarist Raymond Boni. Boni's background is steeped in both the Gypsy tradition and in free improvisation, with a style that suggests both Django Reinhardt and Derek Bailey. In general, the record is quite spacious, in that there are many extended solo and duo sections. The music seems characteristically French with the influence of Reinhardt clear in Boni's sound, even in the most abstract moments. Given this, when Vidal is on baritone it almost sounds like some sort of Boulez flirtation with musette. Léandre plays pizzicato quite a lot, with lithe glissandi, percussive attacks and graceful melodic fragments. Her prodigious technique with the bow is evident as well, notably on "Des Prunes." Vidal's sound is rife with otherworldly chirps and wails and the duo with Léandre, "Improbable V," is a standout. The duo between Vidal and Boni is quite arresting, with Vidal's wordless vocalizations creating odd resonances inside her soprano saxophone and Boni's effects producing a huge ruckus.

Duo (Heidelberg Loppem) 2007, a two-disc set of duos between Léandre and Anthony Braxton, is a welcome meeting between two artists who have kept duo performance as one of the cornerstones of their creative output and a rare opportunity to hear Braxton in a completely improvised context. The liner notes discuss his comments 25 years earlier in Graham Locke's Forces In Motion regarding the limitations of freedom. The two of course are both masters of improvisation in any formal context and each disc's lengthy uninterrupted performance demonstrates their shared vocabulary and deep mastery of form, texture and expressive dialogue.

Léandre's fluency with all areas of the fingerboard and vast array of arco techniques are on display in the long opening. Braxton spends the majority of Disc 1 on sopranino and soprano saxophone, switching to contrabass clarinet for the long middle section, as pointillism gives way to a subdued drone texture then to a brief and extremely abstract solo section for Braxton. The end section contrasts brutality with melodicism and here Léandre gets in a longer solo section. On Disc 2 the interactions are somewhat more virtuosic—the shifts between high and low density occur more rapidly and the phrasing and interplay of gesture are more complex. Even the glacial pacing of the ending has an urgency that inevitably is given full voice in the lighthearted frenetics of the coda. Not that there's a need to identify a preference between the discs. Rather, the point is that the nuance, subtlety and extreme multiplicity of options mandates that this music operate on such a large scale. The long duration is a necessity, as the art of improvisation is in the process of exploring endless possibilities.

Tracks and Personnel

Last Seen Headed (Live at Sons D'Hiver)

Tracks: Last Seen Headed I; Last Seen Headed II; Last Seen Headed III; Last Seen Headed IV; Last Seen Headed V; Last Seen Headed VI; Last Seen Headed VII.

Personnel: Joëlle Léandre: bass; François Houle: clarinet: Raymond Strid: drums.


Tracks: ada; joseph et joseph; la passe; cumulus (ÀMadame Louise); des prunes; tube; tractile; gros dilemma; improbable v.; de mon ef....

Personnel: Joëlle Léandre: double-bass, voice; Maguelone Vidal: soprano and baritone saxophones, voice, tom bass; Raymond Boni: guitar.

Duo (Heidelberg Loppem) 2007

Tracks: Cd1: Duo 1. Cd2: Duo 2; Duo 3.

Personnel: Anthony Braxton: sopranino, soprano, alto saxophones, contra-bass clarinet; Joëlle Léandre: bass, voice.

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