Joelle Leandre,
Solo Bass
(Mesostics, 2000)

Joelle Leandre's bass has become one of the best-known voices on the European scene. She's played with just about everyone of any stature, but she's not just a supportive layer. She has plenty to say of her own and this, her latest but not her first solo release, captures her live in Hiroshima with an attentive and happily quiet audience. Since she's just returned from a Japanese tour, it's a slight surprise to see that this was recorded in 1998, but not an enormous surprise; this kind of music takes a notoriously long time to come out, and at least it's been picked up by the excellent Mesostics label, which has done a nice job of the packaging.

The eight pieces here are all of medium length, and simply numbered -- Leandre is too sensible an improvisor to tag jokey titles onto serious pieces of music. She plays throughout with a huge dynamic range, from very loud bowing plus singing to silence, and all audience sounds have been eliminated (including between pieces, a pleasing case of attention to detail by someone), making it a rewarding thing to listen to without distractions.

The music itself is varied, too, with percussive sounds and extended timbres rubbing shoulders with jazzy note-based work. She even picks up the occasional Japanese influence here and there, finding a pentatonic scale has materialised under her fingers, although it doesn't last for long.

Leandre's bass playing often impresses with its apparent ability to create a distinct idea within each piece, to make it a thing in itself without using thematic or crudely conceptual materials. Here, however, the pieces are much more jointed, falling into distinct sections as if each one were a miniature suite. This is surprising at first, but it does enable her to explore several related but not closely connected ideas. The results are pieces which are rich and multivalent, pieces which have a variety of things going on in them.

Of course, part of the reason for this must be the compression of thought which occurs in solo playing, where you can explore an idea much more quickly. There's something very stimulating for both performer and listener about the freedom to abandon everything but a small aspect of what you've been working with and, as it were, start again with it from a different angle. These pieces certainly aren't bitty or unfocused; they're articulated into parts, which is quite different from being mere montages. Recommended.

[ by Richard Cochrane ]