Joëlle Léandre & Pascal Contet - 3

Ken Waxman, JazzWord

(reviewed along with Haspaarren, NoBusiness Records)

Paradoxically and characteristically, French bassist Joëlle Léandre has always insisted that she loves improvising in novel combinations – and also prefers to work with players with whom she has along association. These exceptional duo sessions are instances of the latter, and despite superficial variances, both actually have more in common than is initially evident.

Léandre and French Free Jazz baritone saxophonist Danuik Lazro has been playing in different partnerships since 1984. Meanwhile French accordionist Pascal Contet, best known as an interpreter of modern notated music as well as dabbling in theatre and film soundtracks, has had an on-again/off-again duo with Léandre for two decades. Comprehensively these discs highlight the bass player’s interactions with two reed players, except one uses bellows and buttons and the other keys and a mouthpiece.

One of the most versatile of low-woodwind specialists, Lazro has as imposing a command of the most elevated textures of his instrument as Léandre has facility with her bow work. Over the course of six improvisations, the two manage to constantly challenge one another with intimate microtonal suggestions and raucous exhibitionism, as well as brief sequences of surprising delicacy and wit. As they stack timbre against timbre, and texture against texture, tonal variations slither from the top of the scale downwards and up again. Léandre’s string jumps and hurtles land with such force at points that it sounds as if she’s deconstructing the double bass as well as the music. Additionally her Bedlam-meets-bel-canto vocalizing is sometimes brought into play, especially when the saxophonist moves from near straight-ahead blowing to straining yelps and shrills from his horn. With guttural reflux and tremolo gargles evoked to define the hue-and-cry on “Haspaarren IV”, it’s Léandre’s buzzing stops which eventually direct the two towards a supple, melodious duet. Squiggly, pointillist inferences define the next improvisation after Léandre’s skill allows her to symbolically split in half, with angled rips near the scroll contrasting with sitar-like tremolo lines below.

By the CD’s final moments every abstract string stroke or unbroken reed screech has been matched as effectively as the more mellow lines have been harmonized. The rewards of the session are apparent in how thought and motion from one player can be effectively and spectacularly joined or contrasted by another for a more profound appreciation of the instruments’ – and musicians’ – incomparable range.

A similar instrument meld is apparent on «3», although the implicit quivers from Contet’s squeeze-box create a more easy-going undertow than the abrasiveness apparent on the Lazro-Léandre session. With pitch-sliding cooperation a more common leitmotif in European music, the often contrapuntal result echoes Roma and Klezmer inferences. At the same time Léandre’s rough string slaps create a resounding percussiveness, so that in response, the accordion’s vibrations begin to take on vamping woodwind-like qualities.

Organ-like but not bluesy riffs, plus romantic, but never fully musette-like riffs, are brought forward by Contet as his contributions approach cues for an imaginary soundtrack. When he can, he uses the squeezed bellows to also introduce and maintain the closest thing to continuum on these seven tracks. But with a sardonic anarchism, the bassist propels microtonal swabs or wide polyrhythmic asides to sabotage any tendency towards attaining a comfortable groove. At the same time her string-and-bow command is such that movements towards the inchoate are equally prevented with resonating twangs or unexpected string- stropping preserving the dynamic interface. No more than a successful love-making session can any individual actions be isolated. The climax is also the finale since by the time “cinquante-trois” arrives at the completion of this live concert, the excitement level has reached orgasmic level and eventually dissipates following a crescendo of low-pitched bellows, scrubs, vibrations and squeezes.

Each of these Free Music relationships may be long-standing, but after all these years the passion both partners bring with them is enhanced with sophisticated techniques.