AMN Reviews: Joelle Leandre – Solo

Joelle Leandre: Solo (Kadima Collective Triptych #3)

Kadima’s third installment of its indispensable Triptych series, this package of a CD, DVD, and book is devoted to the French double bassist Joelle Leandre. The CD is a recording of a 2005 solo performance at Piednu France; the DVD was shot at the 2009 Guelph Jazz Festival. Both are welcome additions to Leandre’s recorded output. But possibly the most fascinating element of the package is the book, an autobiography written in conversation with Franck Medioni. Originally published in French as A voix basse, Kadima has now made it available in English.

Leandre’s oral autobiography crackles with all the immediacy and spontaneity of having the subject herself in the room, speaking directly to the reader. Like her definition of jazz, the conversation recorded is a ceaselessly creative effusion stamped with her personality: Outspokenly passionate, impulsive, and direct in expression. The book is structured topically, allowing the bassist to situate events of her life story in the context of her thoughts on her background and education, influences, instrument, and approach to improvisation.

Leandre comes from a working class family in the south of France. Indeed, a recurring motif of the book is her conception, clearly drawn from her own self-conception, of the musician as a worker or an artisan as much as an artist—or, to use one of her images, as a farmer who gets up early every morning and gets to work with his tractor. A strong work ethic figures prominently in the stories she tells—of studies with Pierre Delescluse and subsequently at the Paris Conservatoire, and of her own early practice regimen. Although it can be said that her subsequent career in improvisation involved the renunciation of some aspects of her grounding in European art music, she does credit her rigorous training with giving her a solid foundation in technique and reading ability that allowed her access not only to some of the most advanced literature for her instrument, but to a deep grasp of its possibilities and limits. This foundation is still evident in Leandre’s characteristic blend of the structures and sound palette of contemporary art music with the energy and spontaneity of jazz.

As important as her formal training was, of equal importance was a set of chance encounters and of more deliberate meetings with remarkable men and women. One such encounter was with a recording—a Slam Stewart LP Leandre picked up in 1971, because she liked its cover. The music, which she describes as a “shock to the system,” introduced her to jazz and broadened her relationship to the bass. Of the significant people she met—among them Giacinto Scelsi, Derek Bailey and Irene Schweizer–several were to exert influence over her music and more general outlook. Perhaps the most important of these people was John Cage, whom she first met during her initial trip to the US in 1976. Cage opened her up to sound as such; his advice to her to let sounds be themselves had a profound philosophical as well as musical impact on her, and contributed to her decision to be more than just an orchestral or ensemble bassist. From Cage, whom she describes as her “spiritual father,” she got a sense of freedom and the permission to follow it. It’s easy to see how Cage’s philosophy of freedom conjoined to discipline would be congenial to her, appealing as it does to both sides of her character–her work ethic and her impulsiveness. Leandre’s relationship to Cage was such that she suggested he write a score for double bass; his response was Ryoanji, which as she tells it was conceived in Marcel Duchamp’s apartment in Neuilly, where Cage frequently stayed when visiting France.

Leandre’s relationship to her instrument is, not surprisingly, an intense and complicated one. The chapter “Base/Bass” may well be the finest description of the phenomenology of the bass-bassist symbiosis—of what it’s like to live with and through one of these imposing wooden monsters. The bass for Leandre is a second body, “a big empty box” supported in every sense by the musician who must play it in spite of the difficulties inherent in its large size and limited portability. (Any double bassist will nod in agreement when she describes the bass as a “whopping great thing that puts us through hell. But we love it.”) What seems to attract her is the intense physicality associated with playing the bass and the sonorous gravity of its voice. On this latter point Leandre asserts that she’s chosen to pursue sound over virtuosity—an important decision that informs her playing and gives it its peculiar character, making it especially suitable for duets—a format that, not surprisingly, she prefers.

In addition to their inherent musicality, Leandre’s performances are remarkable for the element of theatricality she often brings to them. It isn’t unusual for her to integrate voice and movement into the music, creating a multi-modal experience of particular richness. Seemingly more than most, she incorporates a gesturality in her work that goes beyond the effort needed for the mere production of sound. In this regard it is interesting to read that she comes from a family of circus clowns—and it’s easy to see the connection between the clown, relying on the eloquence of gesture and an expressive motility, and the bassist herself, who draws on these same resources in performance.

With this triple package of book, CD and DVD, Kadima Collective has presented a complex musician in a masterful way. Solo will be of interest not only to double bassists, but to anyone with a desire to understand improvised music from the perspective of one of its leading performers.

Upcoming Central Florida Shows

From The Civic Minded:

Friday, November 11th
Build @ the Timucua white house
2000 S. Summerlin St., Orlando
7:30 pm, free admission

Sunday, February 26th 2012
Harris Eisenstadt Canada Day @ the Timucua white house
2000 S. Summerlin St., Orlando
7:30 pm, free admission

Sunday, March 25th 2012
cm5 One and One Series- concert #1:
Jaap Blonk solo and Fred Ho solo @ the Timucua white house
2000 S. Summerlin St., Orlando
7:30 pm, free admission

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San Francisco Bay Area Scene

Tony Buck
Image via Wikipedia

From BayImproviser

Thursday, October 6, 7:30pm
Tuesdays at Tom’s Place, 3111 Deakin St., Berkeley
* Tony Buck (percussion) and Magda Mayas (piano)
* Annette Krebs (prepared guitar)
* Grosse Abfahrt – Tom Djll (trumpet), Matt Ingalls (clarinet), Tim Perkis (electronics), Gino Robair (electronics, percussion), John Shiurba (electric guitar.)

Thursday, October 6, 8pm
Luggage Store Gallery, 1007 Market St.(@ 6th Street), San Francisco
OutSound presents: Luggage Store New Music Series
* 8pm: Neil Welch (Washington)
* 9pm: Sheldon Brown’s Distant Intervals: Music Hidden in Speech, Speech Structures Hidden Under Music
Sheldon Brown (reeds), Andrew Joron (theremin, poetry), Noah Phillips (guitar), Dave MacNab (guitar), Michael Wilcox (bass), Vijay Anderson (drums)

From Berkeley Arts Festival

Friday, October 7, 12noon
Berkeley Arts Festival 2011, 2133 University Ave., Berkeley
In concert with Jerry Kuderna (piano)

From FaceBook Events

Friday, October 7, 6:30pm
Brick and Mortar Music Hall, 1710 Mission St., San Francisco
* Reverend Screaming Fingers Big Band
* Microlash
* The Overdub Club

From BayImproviser

Friday, October 7, 7:30pm
Explorist International, 3174 24th St., San Francisco
Forward Energy – Jim Ryan (alto/tenor sax, flute, trumpet), Rent Romus (alto/soprano/c-melody saxes), Scott R. Looney (e-piano), Eric Marshall (doublebass), Timothy Orr (drums)

Friday, October 7, 8pm
Mills College, Center for Contemporary Music, 5000 MacArthur Blvd., Oakland
Spontaneous Improvisational Compositions for piano, flute, and cello
Myra Melford (piano), Nicole Mitchell (flute), Tomeka Reid (cello)

From Berkeley Arts Festival

Saturday, October 8, 8pm
Berkeley Arts Festival 2011, 2133 University Ave., Berkeley
In concert with:
* Dan Plonsey
* Monstrosities
* Fred Frith / Theresa Wong Duo

From BayImproviser

Saturday, October 8, 8pm
Trinity Chapel, 2320 Dana St., Berkeley
Trinity Chamber Concerts presents:
Magda Mayas (piano), Tony Buck (percussion), Aram Shelton (clarinet, saxophone)

Monday, October 10, 7:30pm
Mills College, Center for Contemporary Music, Ensemble Room, 5000 MacArthur Blvd., Oakland
Tim Feeney (percussion, electronics) and Vic Rawlings (prepared cello, electronics)

From FaceBook Events

Monday, October 10, 7:30pm
Luna’s Cafe, 1414 16th St., Sacramento
Nebraska Mondays at Luna’s Cafe, curated by Ross Hammond
Neil Welch (Seattle) with Garage Jazz Architects (Sacramento)

From BayImproviser

Monday, October 10, 8pm
Bob’s House, 475 43rd St.(corner of Barrett and 43rd), Richmond
* Emergency String (X)tet – Angela Hsu, Jeff Hobbs, Jonathan Segel (violins), Doug Carroll (cello), David Michalak (lap steel gtr.), Bob Marsh (cello/bass)
* The Angelicals – Karl Evangelista (guitar), Michael Dale (saxophone), Bob Marsh (contrabass)

Tuesday, October 11, 9pm
The Uptown, 1928 Telegraph Ave., Oakland
The Oakland Active Orchestra (OAO) celebrates its 2nd birthday with a program of short works by bandmembers Darren Johnston, Aaron Bennett, Aram Shelton, Lisa Mezzacappa, Rob Ewing, and Jordan Glenn.
* The OAO is: Aram Shelton, Aaron Bennett, Cory Wright (reeds), Darren Johnston, Theo Padouvas (trumpet), Rob Ewing (trombone), Hillary Overburg (violin), John Schott (guitar), Lisa Mezzacappa, Atemu Aton (bass), Mark Clifford (vibraphone), Jordan Glenn, Sam Ospovat (drums/percussion)
* Opening Set by: Dave Rempis / Darren Johnston / Larry Ochs Trio

Wednesday, October 12, 7:30pm
Meridian Gallery, 535 Powell St., San Francisco
Meridian Music: Composers in Performance presents Dulcimer Flight II by Dan Joseph
In his solo works for electro-acoustic hammer dulcimer Dan Joseph constructs quiet, contemplative soundscapes that slowly unfold over the course of 45-minutes to one-hour.

Wednesday, October 12, 8pm
CCRMA Stage, Stanford University, 660 Lomita Dr., Stanford
Christopher Willits (musician, guitarist, producer, photographer, filmmaker all-in-one) presents an evening of his music at CCRMA. Willits designs much of his own software, and has worked to redefine the guitar in the digital age. His guitar lines fold and weave into each other creating complex patterns of interlocking rhythm, melody, and texture.

Wednesday, October 12, 8pm
Studio 1510, 1510 8th St., Oakland
Open recording session with Forward Energy: Jim Ryan (sax flute trumpet), Rent Romus (alto, soprano, & c-melody saxes), Scott R. Looney (piano and electronics), Eric Marshall (double bass), Timothy Orr (drums)

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Protest Series at the Heaven Gallery

From Chicago’s Heaven Gallery:

Saturday, 10/8

Dave Rempis – saxophones
Brian Labycz – modular synth
Hiroyuki Ura – snare, electronics
Daniel Fandiño – modular synth
Nick Mazzarella – saxophone
Jason Stein – bass clarinet

Saturday, 10/15

Nick Broste – trombone
Keefe Jackson – tenor sax
Anton Hatwich – bass
Nick Mazzarella – alto saxophone
Anton Hatwich – bass
Frank Rosaly – drums

Saturday, 10/22

Jason Stein – bass clarinet
Paul Giallorenzo – piano, synthesizer
Frank Rosaly – drums
Matt Steckler, Jared Sims, Terry Goss, Charlie Kohlhase – woodwinds
Dave Ambrosio – upright bass
Bill Carbone – drums

Saturday, 10/29

Guillermo Gregorio – reeds
Clifton Ingram – guitar
Brian Labycz – modular synth
Andrew Royal – violin
Andrew Scott Young – bass