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Can You Hear Me? is Joëlle Léandre’s nine-part work for a tentet, a rare extended composition by a bassist who has largely worked in improvised settings apart from her collaborations with the composers Giacinto Scelsi and John Cage. This 2015 performance from Metz is the work’s second realization. It was first performed at Ulrichsberger Kaleidophon in 2009 and released as one CD of the two-disc Can You Hear Me & Trio (Leo Records CD/LR 594/595). That version was the subject of an Ezz-thetics column (PoD #34, June 2011) which ends, “Joëlle’s starting to plan to perform the piece again next year, with Kevin Norton again on percussion and a group of French associates. For her, ‘The piece is a kind of mirror, a utopia of musicians’ desires, where different creative possibilities come together.’”
Clearly it took a little longer and Kevin Norton isn’t on this recording (Florian Satche brings comparable spark), but yes, it is a French ensemble and it’s a heartening example of a major work bridging composition and improvisation that has found renewed life after its initial appearance. Taking nothing away from the original, the present version feels crisper, its contours more sharply defined. There’s a higher level of empathy apparent between Léandre and the French musicians, many of whom she has worked with in other contexts, including the frequent collaborator trumpeter Jean-Luc Cappozzo. Dedicated to Léandre’s parents, it’s edgy work, whether turbulent, tense, exuberant or playful, animated and with a constantly erupting surface. The second movement has moments of great intensity from the intersecting strings of the leader and violinist Théo and cellist Valentin Ceccaldi, the dialogue springing to life in short, gritty bow strokes before Cappozzo’s lyric solo concludes the segment. Others distinguish themselves in solo interludes, the clarinetist Jean-Brice Godet, for example, and the trombonist Christiane Bopp.
While individual inspirations sometimes come to the fore, at other times it’s Léandre’s compositional language, like the Boulez and Messiaen inspirations that characterize the fourth movement, that dominates, suggesting very specific moments in her musical life. That personality is never more important than when she reduces her means to the purest individual expression, her own shamanic aria with bass accompaniment that comes near the conclusion. This is consistently vital work that will engage new listeners and likely those who heard the first realization.
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