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Joëlle Léandre, Nicole Mitchell and Dylan van der Schyff - Before After

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Artist: Joëlle Léandre, Nicole Mitchell and Dylan van der Schyff

Album: Before After

Label: RogueArt

Review date: Apr. 21, 2011

In September 2011, French double bassist Joëlle Léandre will celebrate her 60th birthday. To mark the occasion, Leo has already released a fine double-disc featuring Léandre in a tentet and a trio. Now, Before After deserves to take pride of place alongside it. Recorded live at Roundhouse Community Center, as part of the 2009 Vancouver International Jazz Festival, Before After finds Léandre in a trio with Vancouver resident, drummer and percussionist Dylan van der Schyff plus Chicagoan Nicole Mitchell on flute, alto flute and piccolo.

Mitchell is a virtuoso flautist who regularly tops the Rising Star Flute section in the Downbeat Critics’ Poll, 2011 being the latest occasion. She is a fluent soloist able to improvise flowing melodic lines while maintaining a warm, full-bodied tone. Even in the upper register, she never produces the kind of shrillness that turns some listeners away from jazz flute; on the contrary, she seems likely to make converts to it. She has a particularly impressive solo feature at the start of “After Before.” (With impeccable logic, the album’s four tracks are entitled “Before Before," “After Before," “Before After” and “After After.")

With such a soloist, it would have been easy for this trio to become flute plus rhythm section — but it is not in the nature of Léandre or van der Schyff to just play that role, adept as they can be at it. Instead, the trio frequently becomes an equal three-way conversation dominated by none of them, best demonstrated on the title track. Léandre is in a characteristically playful mood, investing the music with a happy-go-lucky lightness. As so often, she underpins the trio, subtly shaping and steering its music with her contributions. In typical fashion, these include her use of voice as well as double bass. Later on in the extended opening track, as it’s in danger of flagging, Léandre injects wordless vocals into a duet with the flute, soon joined by van der Schyff. It provides just the shot in the arm the piece requires and sees it through to a thoroughly satisfying conclusion.

Time and again, Léandre demonstrates that she is adept in the art of the duo, either with Mitchell or van der Schyff… or even between her own bass and voice. On “After Before," we are treated to a call-and-response section between bass and flute that bursts with playfulness and invention. The bassist does not steal the show — that would be out of character. Instead, the album ends up as a delightful case study in successful trio improvisation.

By John Eyles

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