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Joëlle Léandre: At the LeMans Jazz Festival

This two-disc package presents the dexterous bassist Joëlle Léandre in performance with five sets of free improvisers at the 2005 LeMans Jazz Festival. Disc one begins with a trio that includes vocalist Maggie Nicols and pianist Irene Schweitzer. The group’s music is charged with a sense of common purpose. Nicols mostly avoids the melodramatic glissing and ululations that mar the wordless vocals of lesser improvisers. Schweitzer is a percussive, reactive pianist-intense and extremely imaginative. Léandre ably negotiates the incorporeal region between texture and melody.

Léandre’s three meetings with fellow bassist William Parker are less interesting, in part because the screech of two bassists simultaneously scraping out upper harmonics is one of the most unpleasant sounds known to humankind. It’s much better when one or the other plays pizzicato.

Léandre’s duo with violinist India Cooke leads off disc two. Cooke displays an elegant exactitude, and Léandre responds in kind. Precision is also an important part of Léandre’s trio with percussionist Mark Nauseef and trumpeter Markus Stockhausen. Theirs is a low-key, dynamically shaded performance that emphasizes melody to a refreshing degree. Four quartet tracks with the percussionist Paul Lovens, trombonist Sebi Tramontana and violinist Carlos Zingaro bring things to a close. As energetic as the Nicols/Schweitzer group, as finely detailed as the Cooke duo, their free-jazz-tinged music is a wonderful way to end this protean set. It’s rare that a two-disc set grips me from beginning to end. Aside from a couple of stumbles, this does.

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