June 2, 2017
A Woman's Work - Joëlle Léandre
This is another boxed set that came out in late (November?) 2016, which somehow flew under our radar. We are reviewing it over six months after its release. Although we received it more than a month ago, it has taken us that long to digest the eight discs of music in the box. Spread over these eight discs are solo, duo, trio and quartet performances, with an emphasis on duets. There is one disc each for duos with violinist Mat Maneri, vocalist Lauren Newton, trumpeter Jean-Luc Cappozzo and guitarist Fred Frith. There is also one disc featuring duets with drummer Zlatko Kaučič, saxophonist Evan Parker and pianist Agustí Fernández. In addition to these duets, there is a solo disc, a Les Diaboliques trio (with pianist Irène Schweizer and vocalist Maggie Nicols) and finally one disc featuring a quartet with Kaučič, Parker and Fernández. All of the recordings are taken from live performances in France, Russia and Poland. The recordings are all of recent vintage, dating from 2015 and 2016 except for the Maneri duet (2011) and the solo performance (2005).
The Not Two Records website has collected several lengthy reviews of each cd individually in this boxed set. Here we don't aspire to such thoroughness. In this review, the staff of the Poison Pie Publishing House intend, rather, to add some observations containing independent information to the already published reviews.
In the liner notes, Léandre speaks of duets in terms of a romantic relationship. It is not a metaphor that one frequently hears in a male-dominated field with male-dominated collaborations. It reminded us of a similar sentiment expressed in her excellent book, Solo. Conversations with Franck Médioni (kadima collective, Triptych #3, 2011, Israel, book+cd+dvd, p. 99-100, discogs.com link).
A recording is an encounter, a reuniting with friends, with people you feel good with. I also believe it's an act of love. I really believe that: when you play, you improvise, you like being with someone else, you like the other. No need for sex, you just like the other. Something in him pleases us, tempts us, seduces. Later, there's this fun. Seeing each other again, playing together again is a pleasure renewed. Yes, it's not by accident that you play with that musician and not another one...You like the other, you give yourself to him. Yes, you're in a giving mode, a counter-giving mode. The other, you give yourself to him, you trust him. Recording is the adventure of the encounter with the other. I like that.
Léandre has performed many duets with luminaries of free improvisation, including Steve Lacy, Derek Bailey, George Lewis and Anthony Braxton. The duets included in this box present seven distinct realizations of this idea. Each partner provides an individual contribution to the collaboration. Léandre responds differently to the other in the duet, although she retains in all cases her distinctive musical personality. It is in this collective, comparative listening that the synergistic value of assembling these separate performances into a single release is most clearly heard. The instantaneous coordination of Newton's voice and Léandre's is an intense expression of intimate go-generated improvisation. On several occassions during the duet with Cappozzo, the performance takes on the form of a lullaby; the bass has tamed the potentially volatile trumpet and persuaded it to join a peaceful cause.
Together with Schweizer and Nicols, Léandre comprises Les Diaboliques, a trio that is routinely described with the adjective "feminist". The ensemble released an eponymous debut (Intakt Records, Intakt CD 033, 1994, Switzerland, cd, discogs.com link) and several subsequent albums. The live performance comes from 2015 in Moscow. In her book (p. 118), Léandre also talks about the role and perception of women in free improvisation.
Women in the field of creative music are often forgotten. They don't get called much. They become known thanks to their work, their anger, their personality.
In this concert, one hears the fruits of their decades-long work and their respective personalities. However, more clearly heard than their anger is their shared joy in creating this music. On a related note, there is another all-female free improvisation trio featuring Léandre with Susie Ibarra (percussion) and Sylvie Courvoisier (piano). They released a cd, Passaggio (Intakt Records, Intakt CD 075, Switzerland, 2002, cd, discogs.com link), which is every bit the creative equal of Les Diaboliques (though with its own unique approach to free improvisation) but which has never received the acclaim (relatively speaking) of the Léandre/Schweizer/Nicols trio.
Ordinarily, a boxed set serves as more than just a momentary snapshot of the artist. (There are some exceptions--one need think no further than 2 Ts For A Lovely T with 10 cds recorded in under a week.) In general, by presenting multiple recordings, a listener can build a more complete understanding of the capabilities and interests of the musician. In this sense, the inclusion of a solo cd in a Léandre boxed set is a propos. Léandre has released several solo recordings in the past; they are part of her oeuvre. The at-times operatic pieces for bass and voice are an important part of the quinetessential Léandre.