Joelle Leandre: Face It!; Lugano; At the Le Mans Jazz Festival
Joelle Leandre/Lauren Newton
Double bassist Joëlle Léandre ranks right up there with Derek Bailey, Roscoe Mitchell and Cecil Taylor as among the best of solo performers. Like them, she has a developed, distinctive voice, an innate sense of logic and spontaneous composition and the talent to make each performance a new event. But Léandre is also a group player and seems to approach duos and ensembles not just with a sense of who she's playing with but for the size of the group. In a quartet, she never fills more than 25% of the space, which isn't just a simple bit of math, it's a rare quality. And while she has a wealth of solo recordings, a few recent releases show her as a compelling ensemble player.
Face It! is the third disc Léandre has made with American ex-pat vocalist Lauren Newton (after a previous duo, the excellent 18 Colors and Out of Sound with saxophonist Urs Leimgruber). The recording, from the 2005 Le Mans Jazz Festival, shows their shared sensibilities. It starts a bit slow, but by 10 minutes in, they're deep in shared consciousness, finding drama and humor with equal ease. On top of her talent as a bassist, Léandre is a powerful vocalist, although she makes sparing use of it. It's hard not to wait for her to match Newton's vocalese in kind, but they still pair off well for most of the set's 40 minutes.
With Newton, there's a universe to fill in sound. The singer's voice stands out strong and Léandre has nothing but space underneath her to take advantage of. In Quartet Noir, she finds herself in the traditional jazz lineup (if not traditional players) of sax, piano, bass and drums. The first half hour of Lugano contains expert if unsurprising, extended improv going from sputters to jazzish moody from Leimgruber, pianist Marilyn Crispell and drummer Fritz Hauser. Léandre lays low, playing beautifully, in a rare support role for her. But in the final 18 minutes, something surprising happens. The musicians step out of their roles and play a surprising number of bits of dance, moments of silence and odd lightness.
At the Le Mans Jazz Festival is a double-disc set from the same fest where Face It! was recorded and despite being all new recordings is something of a best-of for Léandre. Five standing groups, all featuring Léandre, are given 20-30 minutes of playing time each. Her longstanding trio Les Diaboliques (with vocalist Maggie Nicols and pianist Irene Schweizer) seems more intuitive, less character-driven, then on previous recordings. The duo with fellow bassist William Parker is as richly complex as ever. Her duo with violinist India Cooke is a fairly recent project, but seems to be about the most like-minded she's had. And the final two groupings (a trio with percussionist Mark Nauseef and trumpeter Markus Stockhausen and a quartet with percussionist Paul Lovens, trombonist Sebi Tramontana and violinist Carlos Zingaro) show her - as with Quartet Noir, though perhaps to better results - as a perceptive group improviser.
Tracks and Personnel
Personnel: Joelle Leandre: bass, vocals; Lauren Newton: vocals.
Tracks: Lugano Parts I-III
Personnel: Urs Leimgruber: tenor and soprano sax; Marilyn Crispell: piano; Joelle Leandre: bass; Fritz Hauser: drums.
At the Le Mans Jazz Festival
Personnel: Maggie Nicols: voice; Irene Schweitzer: piano; William Parker: bass; India Cooke: violin; Markus Stockhausen: trumpet; Mark Nauseef: percussion; electronics; Paul Lovens: drums; Sebi Tramontana: trombone; Carlos Zingaro: violin.