Having attempted to read the original version of this book (“A Voix Basse”, published in 2008 by Editions MF), my nonexistent French had hindered the complete enjoyment of what this reviewer judges as the best rationalization of improvisation he’s met to date. That’s right, superior to Derek Bailey’s. Kudos to JC Jones’ Kadima Collective and Jeffrey Grice – translating a volcanic mind as Joëlle Léandre’s is a monumental task – for warranting a chance to appreciate the artistic views and the outlooks on various facets of existence from the strong-willed bassist, who turns sixty in September yet maintains the bright and breezy spirit of a young girl in everything she does, despite a declared resentment boiling underneath. But, as a John Lydon used to say, anger is an energy.
Improvisation is a way of life, and no one better than Léandre renders the concept into words, exercising the mechanisms of reminiscence correspondingly to her stage behaviour. An ongoing piece of theatre with lots of sounds – no distinction between beauty and ugliness, anything goes to produce an interesting soliloquy – and whatever constitutes the ever-present traits of a creative personality at large. Sturdy family roots, a rigid academic training, the constant sense of rebellion, the research and the curiosity for what’s divergent, a modicum of ironic obsession. It’s all in these pages constellated with fragments of anecdotes, reflections on the disguised importance of quotidian events, emotional recalls of collaborations with composers such as Scelsi and Cage, annoyed underlining of the secondary role of women in the gradually codified world of free playing (“Where are my sisters?” is a recurring question). Léandre is a clever feminist, who acts practically instead of writing sterile manifestos. If there were more female specimens like this we would probably see less inflated lips and breasts, and hear sharper assertions and amazing – and always amusing – music.
The book is complemented by a DVD containing the footage of a Canadian performance from 2009 and a CD comprising 38 minutes from a 2005 concert in Piednu. Both items might be cause for celebration even if issued separately, given the comprehensive sight that they furnish us with on this woman’s entertaining attitude. Léandre is the performer that makes me laugh as nobody else, this standing among the main reasons for the shameless love of her persona besides astounding similarities in some aspects of our personal values. However, it is the text – which a good reader can easily finish in an afternoon (no pretentious intellectualism here) – that really justifies this rave review. Perhaps a copy of this and Christine Baudillon’s Bassecontinue, a superb movie on the same subject, will make someone find out what “living” means beyond money, powerful acquaintances and bending to squalid “social” policies just to get nearer to someone’s else shadow cone.