French double bass master Joëlle Léandre collaborated many times before with American violist Mat Maneri and recorded with him two albums in the Judson Trio with drummer Gerald Cleaver but hEARoes is her first album with fellow American pianist Craig Taborn, recorded at Théatre Antoine Vitez in Ivry-sur Seine during the Festival Sons d’hiver in February 2022. This live recording is, obviously, a free improvised set where inspired creativity, intuition and precision blur the distinction between individual and collective improvisation and instant composition.
But as Stuart Broomer observes in his insightful liner notes, there is something wonderfully traditional about this supposedly classical, chamber piano trio, with the double bass replacing the cello. The seven pieces of the hEARoes set are structured like a spontaneous suite, but one that expresses a profound and immediate interplay, especially between Léandre and Taborn who share the stage for the first time. They never sound like they’re studying each other, laying hints and clues for ready discussion, adds Broomer. They just play, not like they’re reading a score, but rather reading each other’s vast, copious, musical mind.
You can find in the music of these hEARoes of the art of the moment masterful demonstration of instant dynamics and a deep sense of hEARring, great hEARt and great mind, and, obviously, inventive sonic imagination. Broomer finds here references to the musical languages of Arnold Schönberg and Louis Armstrong, distilled and expanded, multiplied and varied through the idiosyncratic languages, one-of-a-kind personalities and experiences of Léandre, Taborn and Maneri. But there are many more wonders and magic in this brilliant set that reveals more and more secrets with each listening.
Thanks to the immense archive of sound engineer-label owner (and vintage synth explorer) Jean-Marc Foussat, we have Off Course!, the meeting of Léandre with a long-time comrade, German master drummer Paul Lovens, recorded live at Les Temps du Corps in Paris in May 2013. At first and on the 28-minute title track, this meeting sounds as if Léandre and Lovens attempt to throw each other off track with their spontaneous stream of sonic ideas, but when Léandre began her operatic, wordless vocalizations she finds in Lovens a true partner to her passionate-provocative pathos fueled by desired liberties and sublime agitation. The shorter «…where else?» channels the dramatic interplay into a more playful one, and Léandre even enjoys adding subtle walking bass lines to Lovens’ rhythmic patterns until she decides to propel this gentle dance into a deeper and more subversive one all the way until its surprising silent coda.
The self-titled album of the European free-improviser all-star quartet Madly You – Léandre, Lovens, French sax player Daunik Lazro and Portuguese violinist Carlos Alves «Zingaro» – was originally released by the Potlatch label in 2002 and documents a live set at Forum de Blanc-Mesnil during the Banlieues Bleues Festival in March 2001. Thanks to Foussat, who recorded, mixed and edited the original recording we can enjoy again this historical gem.
These four musicians come from supposedly peripheral Europe and not from the dominant improvised scenes of Amsterdam, Berlin and London, and collaborated many times before and after this meeting. And as Bill Shoemaker explains in his liner notes, Madly You is the opposite of other European or American free improvised ensembles that attempt to machine-gun the listener. The two extended pieces – «Madly You» and «Lyou Mad» – still sound fresh and vibrant, intimate and engaging more than two decades later with their surprisingly and highly inventive, dramatic and colorful palette of sounds, and an uncompromising sense of direction of the music that can go almost anywhere at almost anytime. This great quartet prolongs the listeners’ initial stage of discovery and keeps them in a state of wonder long enough that they at least temporarily discard any assumptions about the nature of this free music.
Mat Maneri (viola), Craig Taborn (p), Joëlle Léandre (b), Paul Lovens (dr, cymbals, gongs), Daunik Lazro (as, bs), Carlos Alves «Zingaro» (vio)