There's one thing that, perhaps above all else, sets Joëlle Léandre apart from the pack. True she's a fantastically talented bassist. She has a huge singing voice that is a high point of most of her performances. She's a smart composer and a sympathetic improviser. But the thing that makes any record on which she appears so distinctive is the fact that she almost always has a bow in her hand. One could speculate, to perhaps irrelevant resultsher playing is more feminine, more Europeanand it may just be her extensive classical training, but the reasons aren't really the issue. The point is that she's just not one to slap out a blues progression. She has a big, strong, basement-flooding sound.
And where the bass in jazz generally holds pace and complements melody, Léandre stretches a canvas across the floor, on top of which anything can happen. It can be, for example, the ground on which Roy Campbell's hard driving trumpet meets amiably with Marilyn Crispell's pastoral piano. It can set the stage upon which drums sing. Which is what happened on Dec. 22nd, 2006 at The Stone. She played two sets, both now out on CD: a duo with Kevin Norton and a quartet with Campbell, Crispell and Mat Maneri.
The duo with Norton was a natural. He can be an extremely melodic player and the pair made a great record with cellist Tomas Ulrich (Ocean of Earth, released on Norton's Barking Hoop). On Winter in New York (2006) they are anything but a rhythm section. It's deep and rich, with Norton's vibes and bowed cymbals providing as much by way of melody as Léandre's contrabass. For the second set of the evening (DMG @ The Stone Vol. 1), Léandre selected a drummerless quartet. The playing is strong throughout, but it's particularly nice to hear Campbell pull back. He plays flute for part of the set, but his muted trumpet sounds especially sweet against the woody lyricism of the rest of the band.
As with the Norton duo, it's easy to forget just what instruments are being played on Freeway, Léandre's duo with accordionist Pascal Contet. Contet enjoys the low, reedy tones of the accordion, sometimes pushing Léandre up in the midrange and making the record sound like a bass clarinet/cello duo. And the accordion's lung capacity pushes Léandre into pizzicato more often than usual for her. Their 1994 duet remains one of the most satisfying in Léandre's huge discography, if one of the more difficult to track down and the new one is every bit as good. The ability of both instruments to move quickly over a huge range of tones and the inclination of both players to make full use of their instruments make for a satisfying, unpredictable album.
Tracks and Personnel
Winter in New York 2006
Tracks: Winter December #1; Winter December #2; Winter December #3; Winter December #4; Winter December #5; Winter December #6; Winter December #7; Winter December #8.
Personnel: Joelle Leandre: bass, voice; Kevin Norton: vibraphone, drums and other percussion instruments.
The Stone Quartet
Tracks: Part 1; Part 2; Part 3; Part 4.
Personnel: Joelle Leandre: bass; Marilyn Crispell: piano; Roy Campbell, Jr: trumpets & flute; Mat Maneri: viola.
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