Joelle Leandre & Jordan Bordellon (Relative Pitch Records, 2012)
Jazz and improv musicians have consistently been some of the most adventurous in terms of instrumentation/lineup choices in modern music. Due to this, the concept of the duo lineup has been an incredibly rich source of excellent explorations into the composed and the improvised. The reason, I believe, is it is the only circumstance where you have two musicians creating a dialog. It is not a single voice or a varied crowd, but two musicians directly communicating with each other, for better or worse. This was originally, in our preferred vein of jazz, a reason to get together a drummer and someone on reeds to just spend the course of an LP blowing or drumming their brains out. Exhibitions in technical ability and unrestrained free playing were the norm and were highly effective, but naturally, the musicians began to experiment and forge new musical conversations based on different paradigms.
Two of these artists are present on this CD. Joelle Leandre should be recognizable to most of us. She has been a preeminent double-bassist and composer working with some of the best musicians in modern classical, free improvisation, and jazz over the last couple of decades. She has also appeared on any number of duo albums, including the phenomenal A l’improviste with Barre Phillips. Jerome Bourdellon, whom I am admittedly less familiar with, has been an active flautist in the French free jazz scene and beyond, teaming up with legendary sax man Joe McPhee on several occasions.
So naturally flute (and other instruments) + a double-bass (played mostly bowed) is an interesting jazz duo instrumentation to say the least. This album seems to be shaded more toward free improv than jazz, but personally I found it to feel like an orchestra of two playing for an experimental opera. Both musicians show off how talented they are on several occasions. The playing really is top notch, as both musicians are having the kind of true dialogue you would hope for, not the type of scenario where one party is waiting for the other to stop talking so they can say something. There are a lot of highly complex changes and transitions as they work through and around each other’s distinctive voices.
Both artists, interestingly and playfully, mimic each other’s instruments in several passages, Leandre plucking quick and shrill notes to mimic the flute and Bourdellon drawing long and deep on his flute to create the kind of droning notes a bowed bass would. I think that is part of the appeal on this album. It’s playful and it’s never dreadfully serious. For being more of a free improv based performance, it does not smack of the kind of stone-faced approach that draws on serious themes and massive amounts of space between notes. This album is not entirely playful; there are some beautiful instances of slow moving, spaced, and heavily dense pieces. However, it retains a certain amount of levity, buoyed by the diverse nature of the playing, and a certain cinematic aspect that is hard to achieve with a duo, but mostly possible because of the part the strings play. You will feel the range of atmospheres and emotions shift across the course of the record, then all of a sudden find yourself in the middle of a hoe-down with each performer using vocals as well as their instrument to turn it into a rambunctious quartet piece for a moment. It’s a fun, enjoyable, and ultimately impressive set of pieces throughout.