Thursday, June 01, 2023

CD Reviews: Joëlle Léandre-Zurich Concert & Brandon López-vilevilevilevilevilevilevilevilevile

Joëlle Léandre
Zurich Concert

Brandon López

All alone onstage, or in the studio, the sounds that a bass can produce might feel familiar. The low rumbling open E (or the even lower C, if the instrument is equipped for that). The blend of the D and G strings together, created a heavy double-stop if an A is played on the latter string. It might evoke thoughts of Jimmy Garrison hitting those pitches in a solo or two; or Charlie Haden running up the neck in "Ramblin'." In other words, it might recall someone else's performances. 

Yet there are times when a performer strikes those same notes, but the results bear more than just those pitches. You're hearing a performer and their personality coming through the instrument. That was the feeling that happened when I put out Zurich Concert, the March 2022 performance by prolific French bassist Joëlle Léandre. She begins by bowing the instrument, creating deep textures which even briefly feel like hard rock riffs, as well as overtones that howl. But Léandre's technique sounds completely original and vital. In the second track (all are titled "Zurich Concert" with a number delineating each band), it sounds like she might be utilizing two bows, since she sustains low notes while producing quick scrapes in the upper register simultaneously. 

Next, she vocalizes along with her instrument, as if she and the bass have become one connected being. The fourth track feels almost like a tone poem, as Léandre creates some high, bowed overtone drones, which continue as she taps on both the frame of the instrument and the strings, eventually adding more visceral chants. Track 5, the one track to clock in at double digits (13), begins with the one chance to hear some plucking, before she explores more harmonies and rising dynamics that eventually bring everyone back to earth. 

Léandre has a prolific output - at least 200 releases, according to the liner notes, and that doesn't count an even newer release on RogueArt with Craig Taborn and Mat Maneri. Zurich Concert feels like the best gateway into her world, offering an understanding of why a bassist has recorded so much. Now I'd like to find footage of it. 

Zurich Concert consisted of five separate pieces (whether they were improvised or not), with breaks between for applause and moments for Léandre to catch her breath. Conversely, vilevilevilevilevilevilevilevilevile, the solo album by Brandon López feels like one continuous performance, banded into eight tracks which flow into one another. The bassist - already building a big C.V. thanks for work with the New York Philharmonic, John Zorn, Gerald Cleaver and poet Fred Moten - changes the way he approaches the instrument with each track. 

"LikeTheEdgeOfAMachete" starts the album with some searing bow work, with guttural vocalizing underneath. "Piri" follows, more than half of its six minutes devoted to López playing his frame percussively. When he does pluck the strings, he first produces the petulant sound that Charles Mingus utilized in "What Love," as he chewed out Eric Dolphy. As López heads into the lower register, the force he exerts might snap the strings. The final strike offers a great segue into "Billie" which is all pizzicato. Full of dynamic shifts and accents that leap forward, it feels like a realization of what the bassist was alluding to up to this point. 

It doesn't feel right to say that López merely repeats himself in several of the following tracks, but many of them tread the same ground as earlier cuts. "RealBadVibes" follows "Billie," returning to the bow for more frenetic overtones. A singular version of that title, with spaces between the words, concludes the album, with a very similar arco attack.. The Spanish translation of the opening track's title, "como el filo del machete," also offers a bit of a continuation from its precedent. The title track branches out further and "PonceNewYork" like "Billie" delivers some the albums highlights, with both hands on strings, hammering and moving rapidly. 

Taken as a whole, vilevilevilevilevilevilevilevilevile (that's "vile" repeated nine times, if my eyes are correct, although the press kit states that the proper title appears to be 125 repetitions of the word) offers myriad examples of the chops López displays on his instrument. If the individual tracks come off more as technique showcases than separate pieces, that's probably because it wasn't made that way. Anyway, it moves quickly enough that only the listeners who wandered into this recital accidently might be alienated. 

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