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Joëlle Léandre - For Flowers

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Artist: Joëlle Léandre

Album: For Flowers

Label: Leo

Review date: Jul. 12, 2004

It seems like Joëlle Léandre is always putting together something interesting. Whether performing works by Cage and Xenakis, baring it all in duo situations with the likes of Derek Bailey, or assembling a top-notch group of electroacoustic performers (think of her marvelous 2000 release with Marilyn Crispell, Carlos Zingaro, Richard Teitelbaum, and Paul Lovens), she is a restless spirit, always looking for a new challenge for her bass playing and vocals.

Finding her in the company of violinist/violist Mat Maneri is no surprise, and the chance to hear his slippery microtonality in this context is a treat. Here they both coax a wondrous range of nuance from their strings, with each slur and crackle part of a fascinating extended dialogue. It’s a bit odder to find them joined by percussionist Christophe Marguet (who’s played a good deal in far more mainstream circles around Paris) and, only a slight stretch, Joel Ryan (a specialist in computer-driven, real-time sound processing in improvised settings).

This set explodes out of the gate with slashing interplay between the strings and a rolling cluster of percussion behind them. After the bombastic intro of “Hibiscus,” things cool down and – over the course of “White Lily” and “Water Lily” – the string players trace a gentle arc through the space, delineating it with abstract melancholy gestures. At several points throughout the disc they get duo space together, which is a rich treat for fans of these players (though Marguet gets time in the spotlight too).

From there on out, Ryan plays with more confidence and exuberance, using real-time sound samples he’s gathered to summon the aural ghosts of his three partners. Sounds rush back and forth, with eldritch electronics merging weirdly with mutilated strings, or fuzzy distortion slinking between the abstracted rhythms. He provides the necessary catalyst for the group, which responds by shuttling between ideas and techniques so quickly that the question of individual voices becomes moot. (Listen especially to the crashing thunder of “Crocus,” where Ryan tweaks the percussion, or in the long lush drone of the concluding “Iris.”)

In general, across this hour-long performance (divided into eight tracks) there is an interesting process by which initial impressions are dissolved: each time I listened to this, I heard a division between the Maneri/Léandre axis and the Marguet/Ryan axis, that the gestures of the former were relatively conventional and distinct from those of the latter, who merely framed and commented. Yet, I always end up realizing, over the course of For Flowers, how integrated the performances are, and how responsive Léandre and Maneri are in the face of such complexity.

By Jason Bivins

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