Joelle Léandre: “A Woman’s Work”

Novelist John Gardner once made the distinction between Primary Literature, which deals with life, and Secondary Literature, which concerned with language. To what extent this construct can be applied to music, generally, is ripe for debate. Certainly, the blues is indisputably Primary, and there are equally obvious Secondary examples like Anthony Braxton’s Language Music compositions. Jazz remains the most ambiguous genre in this regard; although its DNA has been Secondary-altered for decades, some of its Primary chromosomes have proven to be immutable. Today’s jazz is most vital when the Primary and Secondary vigorously compete to a draw.

There is an essential competitive gene in jazz, one that goes far beyond the set-up of, say, one trumpeter going head-to-head with another in a cutting session. The more profound competition for the jazz artist to show or place, if not win outright, is with history. Jazz is saturated with its own history, making the choice for an aspiring artist to either ride in history’s wake, as if on a leg of the Tour de France, conserving one’s energies until there is an opening to brilliantly sprint ahead, or to go all Mike Tyson, beating history into a malleable pulp in the first round. Despite gross differences in style, there remains the issue of portioning Primary and Secondary elements into either approach, which, arguably, will prove to be the measure of obvious successes, split decisions, and miserable failures.

Improvised music largely sidesteps the snares of the Primary-Secondary binary and the quicksand that is history. It is one of the better assets of an ephemeral art form. Unfortunately, what improvisers consciously bring to the moment usually remains unknown, which complicates the forensics of assessing recordings. Not so with Joëlle Léandre. In the extensive overview by Maciej Kar³owski included in the booklet accompanying the 8-CD a woman’s work … (NotTwo), Léandre refers to her double-bass as “my tractor. My double-bass is my work-table, my wood-block, my tool …” At an essential level, Léandre compares her instrument with the technology of farm life, reflecting her Provence roots – a noteworthy compression of the Primary and Secondary.

Technology operates within a way of life, which Léandre suggests through an idyllic agrarian construct. “I often use the image of the farmer getting out his machinery,” she continued. “He knows the terrain, the hour of the sun, changes in the weather, he anticipates a greyness in the sky, he knows the natural world … his harvest depends on it.” Subsequently, being an improviser is a way of life for Léandre, albeit a nomadic one, as she regularly emphasizes. This suggests regular seasonal cycles, not anomalous strings of one-offs and first encounters, punctuated by droughts. This also partially explains why Léandre returns to long-standing circuit of collaborators, many of whom are featured on a woman’s work … – and why this box set has something of an almanac-like feel about it.

However, there is a counter-cyclical aspect to a woman’s work … appearing in the spring like an early volunteer. Delving into a box set of CDs seems intrinsically a winter activity, the cold facilitating hours of listening, combing through the booklet, and retrieving relevant media – feeding on the harvest. Léandre must have a silo of recordings; it is therefore noteworthy that only two performances in the collection were recorded before 2015 – a 2005 solo concert and a 2011 encounter with violinist Mat Maneri.

That most of the work is new gives a woman’s work … much more the feel of a recent works survey than a career retrospective. (Let’s stipulate that Improvisations only become Works when they are commercially issued, with each copy being one in a series, like prints.) Despite its extensive documentation, Leandre’s music has remained a momentary art, successfully evading the historicizing and theorizing imperatives currently plaguing improvised music. An improvisation has always been just that for the bassist. The achievement of this collection is that renders improvisation in its comes-and-goes essence.

This latter quality is particularly impressive when Léandre is working those she has known longest, like singer Maggie Nicols and pianist Irene Schweizer – Les Diaboliques – a trio whose inner most workings remain refreshingly elusive after nearly a quarter-century. Their 2015 Moscow performance has a crackling, on-the-fly feel from beginning to end. Perhaps because she also sings, Léandre always seems to have an especially telepathic rapport with singers, which is not only borne out by her work with Nicols here and elsewhere, but also her scintillating 2016 concert with Lauren Newton, one of the more criminally underheralded improvisers of the past 30+ years.

Despite her voluminous discography, generalizations that stick even for a moment about Léandre’s methodology are few. One really cannot be more specific than observing how she sways between emphasizing texture and line – with many gradations in between the two – and between complementing and confronting her collaborators. To a significant degree, what she does is dependent upon what her partners choose at any given moment, so the inclusion of disc-long duo concerts with trumpeter Jean-Luc Cappozzo and guitarist Fred Frith, both of whom have deep kit bags and who use the contents with swagger, vividly represent Léandre’s resourcefulness.

Since so much of Léandre’s work is done in duo and trio settings that it is easy to overlook her magneto-like presence in even slightly larger groups like the quartet with Evan Parker (on tenor), pianist Augustí Fernández and percussionist Zlatko Kauèiè, whose 2015 performance brings the collection to a close. Had this disc been released separately, it would be widely hailed as one of the better free jazz records of the year. It is noteworthy that is was recorded two days after Léandre’s duets with each quartet member – her exchanges with the flinty Kauèiè are exhilarating. When you have a bass-drums tandem like this, you really don’t need other instruments; but, when you do, pay attention.

For most improvisers, a box set of the scale and quality of a woman’s work … would be a monumental, if not a culminating achievement. For Léandre, it is yet another cycle of sowing and reaping. Undoubtedly, it won’t be long before she drives her tractor back to market, pulling another cornucopia.

(Bill Shoemaker)


JAZZ.PT: 23 de Fevereiro de 2017; Joelle Léandre: “A Woman’s Work” (NotTwo Records)

Somadas que estao quatro décadas da sua actividade musical, em boa hora a editora polaca NotTwo Records decidiu dedicar uma caixa com oito CDs a Joelle Léandre, figura que consta no pódio dos mais importantes contrabaixistas da actualidade. Nao se trata de uma recapitulaçao do que fez durante este período, como se verifica pela inclusao de gravaçoes datadas de 2016, 2015, 2011 e 2005, mas a perspectiva é mais interessante assim: esses 40 anos resultaram no que a francesa é hoje, sendo o presente que mais importa. Uma imensa discografia documenta já o que foi fazendo, nas áreas da música livremente improvisada, do jazz (ela que nunca se considerou uma “jazzwoman”) e da música contemporânea (enquanto intérprete de Cage, Scelsi e outros, inclusive dela própria enquanto compositora).

Todos os registos incluídos em “A Woman’s Work” foram realizados ao vivo e a escolha parece acertada. É no palco que a música de Léandre ganha maior expressao, como sabe quem já a ouviu tocar em Portugal. A selecçao começa, no CD1, com uma actuaçao em Moscovo do trio Les Diaboliques, em que a encontramos na companhia de Irene Schweizer e Maggie Nicols. Boa escolha, pois trata-se do seu mais antigo investimento musical ainda em rodagem, contando com mais de 25 anos de existencia. E é ela que dá “recuo histórico” a “box”, dado que esta formaçao é herdeira do Feminist Improvising Group, uma incómoda pedrada no charco no circuito da livre-improvisaçao da década de 1970, entao integralmente dominado por músicos masculinos. Aliás, a reacçao destes a teatralidade feminista (e lésbica) do FIG foi particularmente virulenta, com por exemplo Alexander von Schlippenbach, numa de várias tristes atitudes na época, a pressionar produtoras de festivais para nao contratarem o grupo, com o argumento de que havia muitos homens excluídos das programaçoes por causa delas, entendendo o pianista que «tocavam melhor».

Ouvimos aqui uma parte do universo FIG a ser replicado pelas Diaboliques, designadamente o factor cabaré, com um humor entre o satírico e o delirante. Léandre e Nicols desdobram-se em “gags” sonoros de que só podemos imaginar (nao tendo estado no concerto) a correspondencia cénica e dramática, explorando com uma boa dose de excentricidade os extremos da emotividade. As vocalizaçoes da primeira acicatam as da segunda e vice-versa, enquanto a protagonista desta ediçao torna contrabaixo e voz num só instrumento. Schweizer opta por outro posicionamento, controlando os excessos das suas parceiras com uma postura mais comedida. Dá gosto ouvi-la: os seus pianismos convocam toda a história do jazz, trazendo o “stride” e os blues até uma concepçao de vanguarda muito influenciada pela música erudita.

O CD2 remete-nos para todo o historial discográfico dos duos de Joelle Léandre com violinistas, a saber Jon Rose, Carlos “Zíngaro”, India Cooke e, mais recentemente (numa ediçao portuguesa, assinale-se), com Théo Ceccaldi, acrescentando a esse rol o nome de Mat Maneri – em violino, precisamente, que nao na habitual viola. Só havia um álbum com ambos, mas em quarteto, pelo que esta parceria ocorrida em Paris tem uma importância particular. A dupla adopta uma interacçao conversacional, toda ela feita de pequenos gestos, num fluir nervoso, inquieto e intenso de ideias. Sempre fugindo a qualquer sugestao de melodia ou de ritmo, trabalhando abstractamente com timbres e texturas. Em termos de abordagem, o terceiro disco da caixa está algures entre o primeiro e o segundo: trata-se de mais uma colaboraçao entre Léandre e a cantora Lauren Newton, 20 anos após a sua primeira. A prestaçao em Besançon demonstra que está longe de esgotada. Há de tudo um pouco aqui: “scat singing”, murmúrio, grito, “spoken word”, “crooning” e lirismo, num imediatismo que se vai metamorfoseando naturalmente, sem direcçao anunciada mas também sem desvios. Léandre vai deitando achas para a fogueira, completamente ao serviço das situaçoes, indo de uma rigorosíssima gestao do silencio aos furiosos ataques com arco que sao a sua assinatura.

O CD4 traz-nos o segundo dueto existente em disco de Joelle Léandre com o trompetista Jean-Luc Cappozzo, este também captado na cidade francesa de Besançon. Novamente, há uma exploraçao de contrários: a música, totalmente improvisada, tem momentos nao só introspectivos e contemplativos como também melancólicos, para logo de seguida vir o puro divertimento, a graçola, o rugido, o urro, com recurso passageiro as raízes da música urbana do nosso tempo, os blues e um folclore sem território especialmente definido. Nao há limites para a inventividade que vamos testemunhando – esta uma música de plausibilidades, praticamente nada excluindo em termos de formulaçao técnica e de vocabulário. Sabemos que há tabus e proibiçoes na improvisaçao dita livre, mas nao as descobrimos nesta audiçao. Mais um CD no leitor e a oportunidade de ouvir Léandre a sós com Fred Frith, ele que integra o MMM Quartet da primeira. Este encontro de gigantes aconteceu em Montreuil, com a contrabaixista desempenhando, regra geral, a convencional funçao do seu instrumento e o ex-Henry Cow e ex-Naked City a atacar a guitarra eléctrica com diferentes objectos e a submete-la a uma panóplia de pedais de efeitos e a “ebows”. Partem de pontos diferentes para chegarem ao mesmo sítio, ora construindo energia, ora dissipando-a. Há trocas de papéis, com Frith a colocar-se no plano rítmico para Léandre “solar” com arco, assim como se vao revezando harmonia e ruído. É a isto que se chama música exploratória e, sim, o rock também está presente.

Como nao podia deixar de ser, está reservado um solo para o CD6, tocado numa emissao em directo da Radio France. Léandre tem uma dezena de discos publicados com o formato, mas este nao está a mais, contribuindo bastante, até, para termos uma melhor percepçao de como foi evoluindo como instrumentista – é a gravaçao mais antiga da caixa, anterior portanto aos últimos cinco álbuns a solo de Léandre. Mais uma vez, ouvimo-la a acrescentar o canto ao que vai fazendo, assim ampliando a compulsao da performance contrabaixística com erupçoes de ira ou envolvendo a delicadeza com que belisca as cordas com quase inaudíveis expressoes vocais. Nos dois últimos compactos tem a companhia de Evan Parker, Agustí Fernández e Zlatko Kaucic, em quarteto (CD7) e em duos com cada um deles (CD8), durante prestaçoes realizadas em Cracóvia, na Polónia. Criada a quatro, a música vai do muito denso ao esparso, com o saxofone de Parker em nuances maiores do que eram seu hábito no passado. A integraçao entre o espanhol Fernández no piano e o esloveno Kaucic na bateria é frequentes vezes concretista, em contraste com o frasismo “jazzy” do ingles e as arcadas classicizantes da francesa. No outro disco, talvez o mais surpreendente esteja nas associaçoes (duas) com o baterista, cheias de “overtones”, texturadas e desenroladas a um nível quase liliputiano. A combinaçao com Fernández é especialmente percussiva, com este a dobrar-se no interior do piano, e com Parker acontece o que de melhor poderiam ambos realizar com tal emparelhamento: enovelamentos de multifónicos, de harmónicos, de sons fantasma, quase nos levando a deixar de perceber quem faz o que.

Em boa hora nos chega esta fantástica caixa também pelo facto de que Joelle Léandre estará entre nós, por duas ocasioes, este ano. O que vem neste pacote tem argumentos mais do que suficientes para nao perdermos essas apresentaçoes, e tanto para os que nunca a viram a boca de cena como para os fas, que os tem por cá muitos.

*****

(Rui Eduardo Paes)


FREEJAZZBLOG: Reviewers Top Albums of 2016

CD8: Joëlle Léandre: Duos with Zlatko Kauèiè, Evan Parker, Agustí Fernández ****

Two days later the same musicians were back on stage, but in the more familiar format of duos with Léandre (her preferred formation). For Léandre, the double-bass “needs to be filled with everything you have, your whole self, muscles, body and soul.” In these duos we hear this powerful physical sensibility at work, full of animation and activity, always challenging her partner to give more.

In her two duos with Kauèiè, crafted textures, resonant with overtones, are atomised and dispersed by his brittle percussion, shattering into fine-scale incidents – brutal and strangely beautiful. The opening and closing of Léandre’s duo with Fernández is also percussive with the latter using the piano’s internals to produce exotic washes. In the central section, her gnarled bass lines are sensuously tactile, tracing a simple melody against the piano’s darting runs and pounding chords.

As with the quartet, the performance ends with Léandre and Parker. They move from a weightless state – multiphonics and plucked harmonics – to the shimmering movement of oscillations and tremolos and then back, for a hushed close.

Léandre has said: "I have a fundamental belief in tradition, no-one comes from no-where. You have to learn, and then learn to un-learn. And then you’re on your own. It takes twenty-five years to learn, and as much time to un-learn." She started playing a plastic penny whistle at eight, so we should now be hearing her at her peak, something comfortably borne out by the contents of this box set

(Colin Green)


JAZZARIUM: Joëlle Léandre - A Woman's Work ... (Not Two, 2016) III

Joëlle Léandreoste ugotovili, Fred Frith je priložnost za raziskovanje elektro-akustièno dihotomijo. Na eni strani raztrganine, umazane bas zvoke, na drugi kitari povratne informacije, pripravkov ali zvoka. Poslušanje opozarja vèasih branje dvojezièno besedilo, lahko poskus v živo prevajati med dvema svetovoma. V drugih trenutkih, zvoki kitar postane kontekst, fuzzy prostor, katerega oblika je pojasnitev natanène nizke tone. Minimalistyczy, èeprav colorful, futuristièno šamanske sonoristic pokrajine.

Duo Mat Manerim je morda najbolj plenilske glasbeno - èe se vrnemo k primerjavi glasbene improvizacije na pogovor, tukaj se ukvarjamo predvsem z verbalnim ograjo na dveh nizov, primer katerih je vrhunec ognjeno diska.

Sem pošteno velik podpornik improvizacijo vokaliste, snemanje Joelle Lauren Newton raje ne spremenijo, èeprav objektivno zanimivo slišati tudi, da sta gospe med seboj dobro poznajo, Lauren z velikim obèutkom števci besedilo bas njegov vokal - najbolj pa se vrnite na dele melodeklamowanych v katerih glasba trèi z besedo.

Zadnji dve plošèe napolnjene s posnetki iz festivala Krakov Jazz jeseni, sem bil takrat v publiki v klubu Alchemy, imeli tudi priložnost, da pišete o teh veèerov bralci Jazzarium - je vedno poseben položaj, da se vrnem na domu za koncert, ki je bil udeleženec - pogosto zaznava spremembe dramatièno, se zdi, da spomin na neuspeh, se uporablja bolj situacijsko kontekst, manj glasbe same.

Sreèanje z Joelle Leandre, Evan Parker, Zlatko Kaucicem in Augusti Fernandez medveda so, zasluženo, ki se imenuje "mojstri improvizacije." Snemanje v kvartet, kot realnosti te škatle je velika predstava, kako raznolika je lahko glasbena komunikacija in izražanje zvoka. Prvi del odmeva utripa, buèi konèno neustavljiva energija (shamanistic kriki Joelle poveèujejo obèutek dobrega katarze), drugi pa je bolj koncentracija, tišina, izmenjavo kratkih, živèni fraze.

Dueti izkazalo, da je morda še bolj zanimivo. Dva Evan Parker, zlasti drugi Hipnotizerski spirala zapleten melodiène linije arco bas in saksofona. Ena duet z Augustim katerega temperament glasba v marsièem spominja na Joelle - Katalonski igra napolnjena s kaskadami za tolkala zvoke klavirskih tipk in oskubljene strune. Moja najljubša pa so verjetno tudi v okviru celotnega polja nizu sreèanja Zlatko Kaucicem. Zlatko poudarek bolj na perkusjonaliach, fancy barv in tonskih poudarki, vendar obstajajo tudi ritmièni zvoki veselo rase.

"Žensko delo" je založniška hiša z razcvet, iz oèitnih razlogov, se ne nanaša na priložnostne poslušalcev, èeprav je, paradoksalno, glasba vsebuje tu je lahko zelo dober uvod v izredno ustvarjalnost umetnika. Zaradi obsega je precej predlog za ljubitelje prijavljenih. Kdor ceni glasbe Joelle Leandre, bodo tukaj našli veliko zvokov za sebe. Ampak to je težko si predstavljam, da so francoske umetnosti umetnik ostati ravnodušen - tako vroèe, vas pozivam, da se glasi njeno vsakogar, še posebej tistih, kjer je ime ni znano.

Jubilatce tem èasu, hvala za obstojeèe zvoke, iskreno želimo v naslednjih nekaj letih na sceni, lahko bile te obletnice v najveèji možni meri.

(Bartosz Adamczak)


ALL ABOUT JAZZ: Joëlle Léandre - A Woman's Work ... (Not Two, 2016) III

Spread over two discs are Léandre's collaboration with saxophonist Evan Parker, pianist Agusti Fernandez, and drummer/percussionist Zlatko Kaucic. This assembled supergroup, one suspects the brainchild of Not Two records, was presented at the 2015 Krakow Jazz Festival. This session could have easily been recorded as a part of Derek Bailey's Company Week. Combining players is a tricky task, but these four are more than compatible. They are the definition of kindred spirits. They play as a quartet for two of the seven tracks, the other five are duos. Parker gets two tracks with Leandre, as does Kaucic. Léandre's magic is revealed here, especially in the duos. She has the ability, as all great bassists do, to push the sound in different directions, control the volume and emotion of the music, all done in a very covert way. Her presence looks large in the company of each musician and together in quartet.

(Marc Corotto)


WWW.FREEJAZZBLOG.ORG: December 04, 2016; Joëlle Léandre - A Woman's Work ... (Not Two, 2016) III

CD6: Joëlle Léandre solo - June 14, 2005 - Radio France - La voix est Libre, Paris

Ever since her first album, playing solo bass has been a way of expressing her music, her self, and Joëlle Léandre has kept releasing solo bass albums over the years, sometimes re-issuing vinyl albums on CD with some changes, or just re-issuing older material as with "No Comment", reviewed earlier this week.

Here is the list of her solo bass albums, with re-issues mentioned on the same line:
Taxi (1982) & Urban Bass (1991)
Sincerely (1985)
Solo Bass - Live At Otis, Hiroshima (1999)
No Comment (2001) and (2016)
Concerto Grosso - Live At Gasthof Heidelberg (2005) (double CD)
At The Le Mans Festival (2006)
Live In Israel (2008)
Live From The Issue Project Room (Free Music Archive, 2010)
Solo (2011)
Wols Circus (2012)

On the five tracks of this album, she shows how she has evolved over the years, playing with certitude and full abandon, doing what she thinks is necessary to be herself while at the same time keeping the audience's attention. And the audience is great. They laugh at her free word associations in French, the silliness and the anger of the words, the fun of it. They applaud with enthusiasm after each of the pieces. She gives it all, and she shows it all, the mournful acro-playing, with gut-piercing sounds that resonate between full sound and flageolets, repetitively so, the vocalising with whispered intensity over obstinate and maniacal bowing, the variation between intensity and calm, between rhythmic hypnotic bursts and more intimate caresses of the strings, the insistent whispers and shouts that appear on each track, as part of her art, as a release of anger that tries to find an escape route, the full power staccato bowing on two strings, the rumbling of the wood, the muscular tension and brutal force, the sounding board being slapped, the more intimate, calmer moments with unison spiritual singing, and then giving even more, the extreme beauty of the dark strings resonating together under her bow, moving every note to a higher, more meaningful plane, something that is beyond classification yet that has universal depth and scope, something deeply human that needs precision and tenderness and sounds that are fluent and dissonant to come to live and ends in sustained silence, fully appreciated by this audience of connoisseurs.

(Stef)

CD7: Joëlle Léandre, Zlatko Kauèiè, Evan Parker, Agustí Fernández Quartet ****

Joëlle Léandre is a musician of many registers, mining the possibilities of her instrument in multifarious settings. Yet it’s not often we hear her in what might be thought of as the standard configuration of tenor saxophone (Evan Parker) piano (Agustí Fernández) double-bass and drums (Zlatko Kauèiè), recorded here at the now ubiquitous Alchemia Club, Kraków in October last year.

The grouping is probably the only standard thing about the quartet. The four equally tasked protagonists start with a series of compressed bursts, clearing the air. The abbreviated gestures are gradually opened out into a tessellated patchwork of notes and dense textures familiar from Parker and Fernández’ own quartet work, developing into a kinetic frenzy. As it fades, Léandre emerges with a chant over growling bass, taken up by Parker’s split notes and embellished with chimes from piano and percussion. The consistency thickens with Léandre stirring away, inciting cluster runs up and down the keyboard.

Their next piece is sparser. It opens with soft piano chords, pizzicato bass, Kauèiè’s brushes and the bare bones of an Arabic-tinged melody from Parker, whose playing has become even more nuanced in recent years. It comes to rest on a bowed pedal chord from Léandre and develops into a duet between bass and saxophone, joined by clockwork piano and lightweight drums as the pace quickens. There’s then a timbral pollination as the whole quartet indulge in scuffs and squeaks from which the tenor emerges with Parker’s typical, roughhewn phrases.

The final piece is just Léandre and Parker, knotted together throughout in a dazzling display of breakneck exchange, shadowing, anticipation and response. Occasionally, Parker’s circular breathing rises to the surface and the piece concludes with his glimmering waves set against scuttling bass.

A fine example of Léandre’s skills as an ensemble musician, in a quartet from whom it would be good to hear more.

(Colin Green)

CD8: Joëlle Léandre: Duos with Zlatko Kauèiè, Evan Parker, Agustí Fernández ****

Two days later the same musicians were back on stage, but in the more familiar format of duos with Léandre (her preferred formation). For Léandre, the double-bass “needs to be filled with everything you have, your whole self, muscles, body and soul.” In these duos we hear this powerful physical sensibility at work, full of animation and activity, always challenging her partner to give more.

In her two duos with Kauèiè, crafted textures, resonant with overtones, are atomised and dispersed by his brittle percussion, shattering into fine-scale incidents – brutal and strangely beautiful. The opening and closing of Léandre’s duo with Fernández is also percussive with the latter using the piano’s internals to produce exotic washes. In the central section, her gnarled bass lines are sensuously tactile, tracing a simple melody against the piano’s darting runs and pounding chords.

As with the quartet, the performance ends with Léandre and Parker. They move from a weightless state – multiphonics and plucked harmonics – to the shimmering movement of oscillations and tremolos and then back, for a hushed close.

Léandre has said:

"I have a fundamental belief in tradition, no-one comes from no-where. You have to learn, and then learn to un-learn. And then you’re on your own. It takes twenty-five years to learn, and as much time to un-learn." She started playing a plastic penny whistle at eight, so we should now be hearing her at her peak, something comfortably borne out by the contents of this box set.

(Colin Green)