Joelle Leandre / Pascal Contet – Freeway (CF 080)
There’s one thing that, perhaps above all else, sets Joélle Leandre apart from the pack. True she’s a fantastically talented bassist. She has a huge singing voice that is a high point of most of her performances. She’s a smart composer and a sympathetic improviser. But the thing that makes any record on which she appears so distinctive is the fact that she almost always has a bow in her hand. One could speculate, to perhaps irrelevant results—her playing is more feminine, more European—and it may just be her extensive classical training, but the reasons aren’t really the issue. The point is that she’s just not one to slap out a blues progression. She has a big, strong, basement-flooding sound.
As with the Norton duo, it’s easy to forget just what instruments are being played on Freeway, Leandre’s duo with accordionist Pascal Contet. Contet enjoys the low, reedy tones of the accordion, sometimes pushing Leandre up in the midrange and making the record sound like a bass clarinet/cello duo. And the accordion’s lung capacity pushes Leandre into pizzicato more often than usual for her. Their 1994 duet remains one of the most satisfying in Leandre’s huge discography, if one of the more difficult to track down and the new one is every bit as good. The ability of both instruments to move quickly over a huge range of tones and the inclination of both players to make full use of their instruments make for a satisfying, unpredictable album.