Well, it's been a long time coming, or should I say it took me a long time? A book, a CD and a DVD so much information it's difficult to know where to begin with such an object. The first thing to mention is that the original book was published back in 2008 in French and without the extra addition of the CD and DVD. You can read an English review of the book on Free Jazz Blog here. Anyhow the best thing to do when looking over this generous package is to split the objects up into their simple components, and since the CD and DVD are actually quite short (but long enough) its easy to run through the basics of what you'll get to see and hear when buying this set.
The CD (38 minutes) :
Is a set of bass solos (five in all) recorded in Piednu, France, 2005. The five improvisations are Joëlle Léandre in full flight doing what she does best ..... improvise. I must say that although I've seen Joëlle Léandre in concert many years ago it was an interesting re-discovery to hear the music after reading the book with it's various ideas. You get to hear all the different techniques and sounds that Ms Léandre incorporates in her music on this CD. She shouts, talks, sings and groans all the time plucking or bowing her instrument, sometimes very tender and romantic and at others it's violent, loud or muscular. I particularly enjoyed the use of here voice which on one track (Tk3) sounds like an American Indian who incants poems or songs from some ancient ritual. There's also her beautiful bowing sound which is pure and strong, only possible from someone completely in control of their instrument, and through years of practising and honing of ones art. It's often small details such as this that we don't get to hear when listening to the double bass in an ensemble, whereas here everything is audible. For me the CD was very intimate which made it a wonderful listen, most enjoyable.
For those who don't know Joëlle Léandre this is probably an excellent place to start. Along with other improvisers of her field who create new sounds from their instruments, unexpected noises which one wouldn't always associate or expect coming (in this case) from the double bass. In Joëlle Leandre's case it's quite an extraordinary mixture of sounds, Tk4 takes you through a journey of harmonics produced by her bow, voice that rasps in rhythm to accompany the bow, tapping with fingers/bow that produce random beats and sound. How does she do it ...... ?
The DVD (33 minutes) :
And this is where you discover what's actually going on. The DVD is a set of 4 improvisations from Guelph Jazz Festival, Canada, 2009. Here you see a little of what's been heard on the CD (although not literally), and you get to see how Joëlle works with her bass and extraordinary it is. If you don't play such an instrument you'll be surprised at how visual her music is - i.e. she doesn't just stand there! There's total fusion with her instrument and often one is surprised at how roughly (it seems) she plays the bass. Stretching the strings like elastic bands (do they ever break?), or tapping the wood to make the knocking sounds you hear on the CD. Probably to get the most out of these discs it would be fun to listen to the CD and then watch the DVD to get the full impact of what is going on.
I should add that although there is some information printed on the discs, there isn't (or I didn't see it) any detailed information printed in the book about the music - that you get to see and hear. Of course it's probably not that important as the music in both cases is excellent, however it would have been a nice 'user friendly' addition which would of helped one enjoy the experience a little more.
The Book :
I found was interesting if a little disorganised, but that might have been the style intended or maybe the way the translator decided to present it. The way the book is presented is almost - in my way of thinking - like a stream of consciousness, leaving out the questions or remarks of the hidden interviewer, not unlike the works of Tony Parker. Joëlle Léandre talks about various subjects and often repeats ideas and names without really adding too much information. Her ideas are lucid and interesting yet at moments one wishes you were there and could ask her "what else about this subject ....?" She mentions Evan Parker, Derek Bailey, Bert Turetsky, John Cage, in fact everybody involved in this scene, yet often with little else to say about the meeting, the person or whatever the subject that inspired this name conjured up. However as the book progresses I found plenty of interesting bits and thoughts in general. Chapter 1 - First Sounds/First Lessons is a fascinating look into a certain period of time when Europe was open to new musical ideas and a sort of anarchy (and openness) which has now sadly disappeared. Much of what the loft scene of the seventies represented is ever present in the words of Joëlle, due to the cross fertilisation of ideas which came from that - Steve Lacy, Barre Phillips etc.
Chapter 7 - Poetics/Politics - struck a particular strong chord for me as she talked about the fickleness of the present day system and how the more experimental side of music is not really represented in our theatres, festivals and clubs. She talks at length about recording improvised music and why it's important and the role of women (or the lack of) in music and in general the improvised music scene. This certainly makes for interesting reading and a subject that could be easily enlarged on as she comes up with some very interesting remarks on reasons for the lack of women in this area, and their roles.
All in all the book makes for an interesting read even if at times a little frustrating. It's very easily read due to it's light style which is almost informal, and in fact you can imagine sitting listening to Joëlle Léandre chatting away with a glass of wine after a concert somewhere. All you need to do after buying the book, hearing the CD and watching the DVD is to go out and see the woman live at a concert near to you. This way you'll get the complete experience, it'll certainly be well worth it.
If you're interested by this package don't hesitate and you can get purchasing details from the Kadima Collective site here. I didn't find it on Amazon FR/UK, but I'm sure a quick mail to JC Jones at Kadima will be able to help you find a copy somewhere near you.