Joëlle Léandre Tentet - Can You Hear Me? (2015)

Ken Waxman, JazzWord

Never content to stand still – often literally – French double bassist Joëlle Léandre’s music can be likened to the epistemological studies of pre-modern scientists. From her beginnings she didn’t feel that mastery of any one discipline meant she had to abjure from others. She demonstrated that by sidestepping from interpreting scores to improvising. During almost four decades she has usually expressed her skills in smaller ensembles. Now with Can You Hear Me she has turned to a large scale composition, played by a 10-piece orchestra.

Although Paris-based Léandre is part of the ensemble, neither the composition nor the performance should be interpreted as the merely an augmentation as her skill as a double bassist. Divided into nine sequences which slowly veer towards a climax, and as crucially come to a designated stop, Can You Hear Me is hardly a holiday for strings. Instead just as a full-equipped army includes naval and air divisions as well as infantry, so is the multi-sectional piece interpreted by clashing and compatible timbres from sets of instruments. Besides Léandre’s double bass, the string section is made up of violinist Théo Ceccaldi, violist Séverine Morfin and cellist Valentin Ceccaldi. Trumpeter Jean-Luc Cappozzo and trombonist Christiane Bopp share brass duties; the reeds are clarinetist Jean-Brice Godet and saxophonist Alexandra Grimal, with rhythm contributions from guitarist Guillaume Aknine and percussionist Florian Satche.

At the same time the bassist’s writing is too sophisticated to limit the instruments into their expected roles. String harmonies may be sweet, but there are passages in which the solo violin’s skittering string tangle is as raunchy as what’s expected from the instrument playing in a rock band. Other times the guitar moves forward in tandem with the string section to produce what elsewhere could be heard as so-called chamber music. Three-quarters of the way through the piece Satche may let loose with a solo of rattling rebound that fits all the textbook criteria for concentrated Jazz tumult. But adapting like a quick change artist to other elements, most if the composition’s earlier sequences depend on his xylophone adaptations. This way those sections prod and smack the narrative into revealing tinctures close to the alliterative passages common to early 20th century European notated music. Cappozzo has proven himself as worthy foil for Léandre in the past and here his particular ambidexterity is put to good use. Paired off with the string section, his buzzes and snarls give the otherwise docile overlay some barbed points. Elsewhere his tone can be sweet without being syrupy or be used to create choked plunger tones with pre-modern relaxation. Bopp’s playing is most distinctive when her harsh slide timbres contrast with the trumpeter’s alp-horn-excursions.

Burbling, upward turning contrasts and conformity characterize most of the group interactions that continue throughout the timed sequences. At points as well bass clarinet chalumeau and/or sonorous cello effects turn the rubato interface into a darker color. Waiting for the penultimate and final sequences, Léandre first engages with the cellist in slapping portly tones over the music as if swaddling it in a prickly garment. Finally accompanied by string section whistles she vocally murmurs, warbles and recites sounds and phrases that coupled with grinding drones from all the players clearly reference the composition’s introduction and dissolve the final textures into a calming finale.

A notable improviser and partner in small groups, we can hear Léandre loud and clear on this disc. She should flaunt her compositional and arranging chops more often.