Leo / CDLR287
Joelle Leandre / bass,
Marilyn Crispell / piano
Paul Lovens / drums, Richard Teitelbaum / electronics, Carlos Zingaro / violin
For4Ears / CD1034
Fredy Studer / percussion, Jin Hi Kim / komungo, Joelle Leandre / bass, Dorothea Schürch / voice, saw
Two more releases featuring the currently omnipresent Leandre; perhaps too easy to pass over in the face of her current ubiquity, but that would be a mistake, in one case, at least.
The Leo session is something of a supergroup, with five well-known and pretty like-minded players doing good, old-fashioned free improv like mother used to make it. Crispell is, of course, a giant, and Lovens will be known to most readers; Teitelbaum, who has been around for a long while but not always in these circles, is an increasingly important and prominent voice in the emerging electronic improv scene, while Zingazo is a relative newcomer but more than just a promising youngster.
What’s nice about this disc, apart from the five big and impressive musical personalities one gets to hear on it, is the way that a group like this can make inprovised music so accessible and involving. Each of the nine tracks sounds quite different and, although they start with a potentially off-putting (actually rather exciting) free blow-out, what emerges later is a very sensitive, sound-based music which will take a tiny motivic idea — like the swooping pitch-bends of the second track — and develop it rather than shying away from anything which might be regarded as “repetitious”. On that track, Crispell even strikes up a walking, tub-thumping rhythm. yes, a rhythm: you can get killed for it in some neighbourhoods, but there you go.
None of which is to imply that this is improv-lite. This group really push their music-making hard, and the results are predictably marvellous. Teitelbaum is the wild-card here, throwing unexpected spanners into the works and keeping everyone on their toes. Of course, the other four could comfortably make music without such an imperative but, with it, they seem to be just a little more challenged. It’s a challenge they rise to, creating heterogeneous music with an identity all their own. Very cool stuff.
Shame the same can’t really be said for Fredy Studer’s duets album, also featuring Leandre on some tracks. That’s part of the problem right there: duet albums are always like this, bitty and slightly unsatisfying when listened through end-to-end. All of the players are interesting, but one can’t help feeling it would have been a lot more fun if they’d all got together and played as a quartet.
Well, it won’t do to complain about the records someone could have made instead of this one. Schurch is a fascinating singer in the classical avant garde style with a real sense of story-telling to her music, and Studer accompanies her with suitably portentious percussion. These tracks would probably suit a Diamanda Galas fan down to the ground, with their Gothic and slightly unsettling atmosphere conjured by banshee arabesques and funereal or skittering membranophones.
Jin Hi Kim plays something called a komungo, which sounds like a relkative of the koto, although this writer has no idea what one looks like. Her playing is slow-moving and atmospheric, and the instrument clearly gives her a large range of timbral options. She sometimes favours slow
repetitions of deep bass notes, at other times playing in a manner more reminiscent of some Chinese folk musics, especially that associated with the shamisen and used to accompany singing and storytelling. Studer’s contributions here tend to be either furrowed-browed water-gongery (which can be rather orientalistic, if such a nasty term is excusable) and rattling riffs (which are a bit more like it).
The tracks with Leandre are mostly much more reserved affairs. As with Schurch, these have a decidedly dark tinge to them which is partly down to Studer’s regular use of bowed cymbals and the like. Leandre gives it a certain amount of stick, but these tracks never really catch fire; the two seem to be playing in different rooms for much of the time, and when one of them sets off with an idea and the other appears not to catch it, the results can be simply annoying.
In short, as a CD this just doesn’t work. This writer suspects that a duet album of Studer and Jin or Studer and Schurch would be a pretty nice project. His duos with Leandre, however, do neither player any credit: they’re a mismatch, pure and simple, and there’s not a great deal they can be done to overcome that. As it is, this is a disk with a lot of good tracks on it, but not enough of anything and programmed in an almost perversely irritating manner. In a way, this is actually a credit to these folks: after each track, one wants more, not something completely different. Richard Cochrane