Joëlle Léandre/George Lewis: Transatlantic Visions

According to poet Alexandre Pierrepont in the liner notes of Transatlantic Visions, French bassist Joelle Léandre will go to any length to play duets. If this is true, then her choice of AACM trombonist George Lewis is appropriate. Lewis gives her a rich vocabulary with which she can interact, in a conversation that often seems as though it involves more than two musicians.

Recorded live at Vision Festival XIII in June, 2008, Léandre and Lewis make an odd couple. That the string bass and the brass trombone can make sonic sense testifies to the artistry of the musicians. How Léandre uses her bow and how Lewis manipulates the slide of the trombone reveals their common sound-making ability. Léandre utilizes every imaginable aspect of arco technique to match Lewis’ blustery buzzing, blurting, blubbering and muting. The two distinctly different sounds crash and collide or blend in similar rhythmic cadence and timbre. Léandre also fields vocalizing possibilities, the grunts and growls of which neatly analogize those of the trombone.

Léandre’s jaw-dropping solo occurs in the third of seven cuts. She extracts multiple tones in seemingly one gesture; or pulls the bow hard and fast across the strings, snapping them simultaneously. She blends staccato and legato dynamics as if there were no ‘difference.’ Lewis’s solo occurs in the fifth cut. He stays continuously in the low register and produces a veritable zoo of sound offshoots, some of which, by the solo’s end, resemble the way an elephant trumpets.

To finish, the pair performs a stirring, resolute mix of voice and instrument. And when applause erupts after Léandre’s last hefty sigh and coincidental pizzicato, whose vibration resonates with finality, one can feel the energy that the two musicians have both expended and radiated in developing these intensely complex improvisations.