Joëlle Léandre: double bass, voice
Ask me what I primarily regard in Joëlle Léandre’s superior category of creative skill, and you’re likely to wait for a long time before a rigorous explanation comes out of my mouth. The sound of her double bass – naturellement – is the cornerstone. But how can one discount the theatrics, the compulsive urge of extracting feeling from the bowels of being in typically graphic fashion, the sardonic hints to the neurotic features of live performance? All of the above has consistently distinguished the French lady’s approach, in a way popularizing the high-strung aspects of solo improvisation and turning them from something reserved to an elite of sorts into an acoustic sign-language that is accessible – and utterly enjoyable – also by less literate audiences. Well, at least to a degree.
In the fall of 2011 at Paris’ La Maison Rouge, Léandre performed twelve compositions inspired by engravings of Otto Wols (straightaway admission: I had to look at Wikipedia to know more of this German artist; not that this reviewer’s proverbial ignorance is decreasing all of a sudden, mind you). Besides the emblematic traits of ebullience that we, as longtime fans, always relish – just marvel at the burst of instrumental lunacy and animal screaming defining the finale of “Die Stadt/Quer” – the program surprisingly includes a few sketches that might even lead someone not aware of Léandre’s career to think that she’s flirting with reductionism. Whispered rumination and approximations of silence carry some weight in this context, small islands of respite amidst the classic outpours of frenzied arco, one-note-drone/vocal psychopathology and ironically flaunty scintillations (ah, those upper partials… they’ll never cease to make the arm’s hair stand up).
Matter of fact, you know what we’re on about here, and which side I’m on. Get the CD, shut up, listen.