Derek Bailey & Joëlle Léandre
Derek Bailey: electric guitar
Joëlle Léandre: bass
Recorded live by Jean-Marc Foussat on May 9th 1997 at Les Instants Chavirés, Montreuil.
The years haven’t mellowed Derek Bailey. This recording, in common with others of recent years, is at times ear-splitting, whatever volume you listen at. In some ways, he is reminiscent of Cecil Taylor, stubbornly pursuing his own relentlessly intelligent path, a unique and uncompromising voice in a genre which is full of them.
Bailey is, of course, one of the true originals of the guitar. He has taken to using two volume pedals (for stereo effects and also tonal variation) and a few other bits and pieces, but he still relies heavily on the most sophisticated of all guitar technologies, his hands. He has developed a style which is instantly recognisable, a scratching, rattling, popping vocabulary of the timbres which most guitarists train themselves to avoid.
Like Cecil Taylor too, his melodic and harmonic sense is acute but easily overlooked by listeners and playing partners alike. Bailey may be a percussive player – his deliberately awkward rhythms are oddly mesmerising and he swings despite having no apparent connection to traditional jazz time – but he also plays notes, showers of them, thousands and thousands of chords and melodic fragments. Like Taylor, he puts these together in a way which makes perfect sense, to the extent that one feels that, if he were to lose concentration for a moment, he might play a wrong note, and everyone would surely notice.
Joëlle Léandre is a strong yet lyrical voice on the bass, and fuses well with this side of Bailey’s playing. The guitarist takes the lead ideas-wise – on all but one track he is the first to start playing, and an initial gesture from Bailey is always one pregnant with information – but Leandre’s contribution here is critical, if more subtle, and for much of the time she is an equal partner. Her long, bowed notes and ametrical ostinatos are not water-treading, as such techniques can sometimes be, but clear and careful development.
Léandre takes the time you have to take with Bailey to make sense of the ideas which develop when playing with him. Confronted by his storm of sound, it must be tempting to jump in, to match him note-for-note, and yet his music is actually quite slow-moving, if filled with fascinating detail. This is what prevents this disc from becoming hectoring, for all that its surface is frenetic. The notes may come thick and fast, but the underlying motion is sure-footed and deliberate, leaving the listener constantly at the seat’s edge wondering what will happen next — in the way that only really fine free improvised music can. As with everything Bailey has done in recent years, this one is a distinctive and exciting recording which can be recommended without the slightest hesitation. Richard Cochrane