Within traditional jazz, piano-bass duets tend to be enacted under the leadership of the keyboardist - the bassist grounding the pianist in a way they would not be playing solo. Duets of any configuration in the avant-garde decry any idea of leader-sideman. This explains the many bass-led duets, a concept alien to hard bop circles, of which bassist Joëlle Léandre is a veteran. Her latest two-disc set on the Canadian imprint Red Toucan, Signature, pairs her with two drastically different Japanese pianists: Masahiko Satoh and Yuji Takahashi. Though the two 30+ minute sessions, recorded live in Japan on two days in December 2000, showcase her forceful playing, they are ultimately a reflection of each pianist's identity.
Masahiko Satoh's has been one of Japan's leading progressive pianists. His strength is keeping a subtle sense of lyricism even in the most disjointed of passages. Lïandre, the stylistic heir to the great bowing bassist Francois Rabbath, matches extremely well with Satoh. His staccato style and her frantic bowing rub together to create fire throughout. Yuji Takahashi comes from a more contemporary classical background and his disc is subtle and cerebral. The sparks from the first disc are replaced by a tasteful sparseness, the music requiring a more active listener to appreciate the duo's interplay. While Satoh and Lïandre were making fire, Takahashi and Lïandre are watching things slowly burn in it. The discs are so different that each listener will definitely prefer one to the other. Both are compelling, though Satoh's disc seemed more inspired. Listening to each short disc straight through is crucial to give Signature necessary context.