Nature can be an inexhaustible topic for artists who derive inspiration from its elegance, devastation and connotations. Here, world-class French bassist/composer/improviser Joëlle Léandre and like-minded, futuristic countrymen, Bernard Santacruz (bass), Gaspar Claus (cello) and Theo Ceccaldi (violin, viola) seed growth, flourishment and a surfeit of aspects, pertaining to trees, leaves and flowers. With these duets occurring on a per-CD basis, you’ll be treated to concepts and musings that inhabit the lower-register musical space, gushing with meticulous phrasings, stunning arco techniques and playful exchanges, but not a syrupy ode to the creative forces of nature. Therefore, if you’re expecting a simile to Frank Sinatra’s version of “April Showers,” or Tchaikovsky’s “Waltz of the Flowers,” you’ve entered an erroneous musical space that is the antithesis to light-hearted fare, frequently coated with hummable content.
Even though Ms. Leandre often chants and dishes out emphatic wordless vocals in the backdrop, it’s more about seizing the moment, that often denotes the apex of masterful performances where—in these duets—the artists’ vast expressionism is the prevailing ingredient. However, these achievements occur within dialogues that spawn a panorama of rapidly paced psychodramas, analogous to nature’s interminable growth cycles, thriving organisms, and the prismatic characteristics of a garden. Yet the beauty of it relates to the continual reimaginations the audience will experience upon subsequent listens.
The “Strings Garden” equates to an endless curve of discovery that tantalize our perceptions, and how we interpret and handle what our senses dictate, or how the musicians’ reactions transpose into the ever-present improvisational climate. These sensations present illuminating factors in various shapes and outlooks. It’s uncontestable that the artistes are enjoying themselves and performing for the audience and not delving into a progression of self-satisfying diatribes. The musical soundscapes of ‘Strings’ inhabiting a garden can be thought of in terms of artists setting up their basses, violins, and cellos within the unbounded forces of nature to bow, pluck and interact with each other. They combine and swap their intuitions and thoughts to create aural canvasses that extend beyond any boundary that may intimate a static environment: a viewpoint, inferring an ideological channel that resists change.
Joëlle Léandre’s resume would take volumes of text and is beyond the scope of these notes. Briefly, she’s a John Cage disciple who has performed his works over the years and aligned with the crème de la crème of modern era improvisers such as, composer / reedman Anthony Braxton, guitarist Derek Bailey, fellow bassist William Parker and many other eminent new music pioneers. Her accomplices, Ceccaldi, Claus and Santacruz are contemporary heavyweights who have made significant strides within disparate musical formats, predominately in Europe. They are in-demand artists whose enviable skills and immeasurable creativity radiates a luminescent underpinning on these respective duets, each presenting the influences of Trees (CD-1), Leaves (CD-2) and Flowers (CD-3).
– The Trees motif is partially designed with thunderous improv along with gruff and winding segments, eliciting imagery of a massive live oak tree, complete with curling limbs and a slanted trunk. But human qualities are often transformed into Leandre and Santacruz’ musical spectrum with crying arco patterns and rejoiceful segments, shaded with temperate intervals. And the duo intersperses melodic ostinato grooves into their craft, as their use of space becomes an equalizer and a means for the audience to probably catch their breath.

– Leandre and Claus’ strenuous phrasings and the former’s expressive background chants during the Leaves topic can become maddeningly intense, akin to a beauty and the beast thematic vibe. No doubt, they seize every moment, contrasted with subterranean-like resonance, blistering staccato lines and a clustering mode of attack, moderated with somber anguish and creaky treatments. In a loose sense, leaves may be zooming by in wayward fashion due to a storm or hurricane, while ending up in randomly populated locales.

– On Flowers, Leandre and Ceccaldi attain a yin and yang vibe, owing to their complementary forces. With closed-hand plucking, sober dialogues and probing exchanges, the duo seems to inspect the scientific complexities of flowers. They also mimic human voices in spots with fervent bowing implementations and circular flurries. Ceccaldi’s weeping violin passages may also parallel a scenario where flowers are used to alleviate grief or memorialize an affluent individual. Although the duo’s fluent enactments may symbolize the tranquil aspect of flowers with an urgent plea for peace and goodwill, where the musicians’ orbital extrapolations communicate nature’s regenerative cycles.

Needless to state, an electronics-centric program could be viewed as an inappropriate vision for initiatives concerning trees, leaves or flowers. On the flip side, electronic instruments are more conducive for parlaying space travel or to outline a modern-day Armageddon. Hence, the organic recordings performed with wood-based instruments transport a semblance of that timeworn adage of being one with nature. These sensibilities are driven to the forefront with these fascinating expositions, duly fabricated with timbral instruments that were created by Mother Earth. So, what better way to pay homage to this mythological entity that sculpted our planet’s astonishing miracles then to make music from the tools our Earth goddess bequeathed to us. – Glenn Astarita



Release: 14/09/2018
FSR 10/2018

Joëlle Léandre / Bernard Santacruz – Trees
All music is free improvised by Joëlle Léandre (SACEM) and Gaspar Claus (SACEM)
Recorded at 22, rue Victor Massé 75009 Paris on 9 of April 2016.
Mix and master: Jean-Marc Foussat

Joëlle Léandre / Gaspar Claus - Leaves
All music is free improvised by Joëlle Léandre (SACEM) and Gaspar Claus (SACEM)
Recorded by Jacques Vivante at Le Triton Les Lilas, 01 of July 2016
Mix and master: Jean-Marc Foussat

CD3: Joëlle Léandre / Theo Ceccaldi - Flowers
All music is free improvised by Joëlle Léandre (SACEM) and Theo Ceccaldi (SACEM)
Recorded in DZIK, Warsaw, 15 of October 2017 by Michał Kupicz
Mix and master: Jean-Marc Foussat

Design: Małgorzata Lipińska
Executive Producer: Maciej Karłowski

All rights reserved FSR 10/2018
Published by Fundacja Słuchaj! (Listen Foundation!)