Friday, February 24, 2017

Joëlle Léandre, A Woman's Work..., 8-CD Boxed Set

World-class virtuoso double bassist and vocalist Joëlle Léandre was not on my radar in the years when graduate school, then overwork and low pay forced me to rely on my fellow traveler's avant discoveries to broaden out my knowledge of new improvisational trends. Working as a review writer for Cadence Magazine fortunately gave me access to a world of artists previously unknown to me. As it happened Bob Rusch sent me a Joëlle Léandre CD to review in a batch of new releases, around ten years ago. It was Joëlle on bass and vocals and another vocalist in a live duet set. As is often the case when confronting the truly new I at first did not know what to make of the vocals, though the bass playing was beautifully strong. In time I came to appreciate her artistry both on the bass and vocal front, as I did Cecil Taylor's vocals after some exposure.

Time has passed and I have happily been the recipient of a good number of subsequent Joëlle Léandre albums, and by now I know that her high, very creative level of avant jazz is a given. When she performs (or composes), you can depend on her to be one of world's most important and original avant jazz improv contrabassists and startlingly original vocalists alive today, someone who whether in solo, duo, trio, quartet or larger contexts will give spontaneous form to the proceedings while bringing out the best with those she performs with.

So when I heard from Joëlle that an eight-CD boxed retrospective was in the works, I jumped at the chance to give it all a close listen and, as you see, write up my thoughts when I emerged from the brown study of aural enlightenment.

So, to give you the complete title info, this is A Woman's Work. . . 8-CDs nicely packaged and available on the Not Two label (MW950-2). If I call it a retrospective I do not mean it is a sort of "greatest hits" collection. This is music we have not heard previously, most from 2015, each a special combination of Joëlle and her bass (one in solo), Joëlle and a live audience, Joëlle interacting in duo, trio, quartet, etc. with a select set of improvisational partners, many well known to the vet avant listener, some less so, but all entering into intensely rewarding dialogs with each other.

So we appreciate the collaborators and how in each case they engage Joëlle and vice versa for some excellent free music. Most of my readers will recognize some or all of the collaborators: Jean-Luc Cappozzo, Agusti Fernandez, Fred Frith, Zlatko Kaucic, Mat Maneri, Lauren Newton, Maggie Nichols, Evan Parker and Irene Schweizer.

There is nothing tired or stale about this music. To quote Joëlle from the very informative accompanying booklet, "The sound of a musician is what he has in his guts, in his soul, is what he has to say. Sound is tough work! It's your identity!" Amen! What we have in this box set is a gathering of major sound masters caught in the real-time process of actualizing themselves, through personal sound generation in an endlessly open field. In the process it gives you a definitive guide to the sound artistry of Joëlle Léandre today, bassist of endless productive creation in close conversation with like-minded free spirits, all masters of the sound fingerprint.

Is this all too much? Not at all. I do not suggest you sit down and try to listen to all 8-CDs in one sitting. Take them one or two at a time, then return to them all repeatedly. This is most emphatically NOT music to tire of. Each listen brings new awareness of another aspect of all the things going on, which is a considerable lot.

I would even say that this might indeed point the avant improv novice in the right direction, teach her or him to open the ears, to listen! Get the set and sequester yourself. And for those who know  Joëlle and the style it is a beautiful collection of contrabass profundities, a series of very fruitful avant summits, a collection to treasure, but yes, to help you learn to hear!

And it reminds us just how seminal Joëlle Léandre is in the music of today.

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