Joelle Leandre and Sebi Tramontana

Leo / CDLR275

Joelle Leandre / bass, voice, Sebi Tramontana / trombone

Joelle Leandre will be a name known to many readers; she’s a bass player who seems always in demand, and no bad thing. Sebi Tramontana may not be such a well-known name, so this set of nine improvised duets is an ideal way to get to know him a little. They’re active and robust pieces, the product of two musicians who are confident enough to play assertively, to make music together with no hint of the customary deferential scrabbling about.

The first thing one notices about Tramontana is his penchant for extremely short, explosive notes which leave the air shivering in their wake, but that’s not all he does by any means. He works with a whole spectrum of strategies from textural growling all the way to jazzy blues, where his wha-wha mute makes a surprising appearance. He seems completely in tune with Leandre’s rhythmic approach, too, allowing his own contribution to make frequent use of repetition; at those points, the two voices can seem like two parts of a machine moving to different permutations of the same underlying pulsation. He does occasionally whistle, sounding like the milkman doing his rounds, but not often enough to become annoying.

I don’t know what it is about Leandre’s playing that makes so many people use words like “organic”, “body” and even “flesh” — probably her gender — but John Corbett falls into the same trap in his notes to this recording. Nevertheless, he’s right about the eloquence of her playing. The mastery she has over the full range of techniques at her disposal is one thing, but the intelligence to make such imaginative use of them is quite another. Leandre is one of our great bass players, a fact perhaps overshadowed by the sheer number of really fine musicians who have taken to the instrument in free improvised music. She has a fluency which ought to be the envy of many of her peers, and although she doesn’t have a bag of tricks at her side she uses a smaller range of articulations to very sophisticated ends.

Together, these two make very convincing music. More note-based than the European avant garde tends to be, they’re hardly jazzy enough to be called jazzers either. They occupy a territory somewhere between the two, in the company of increasing numbers of free improvisors. Afficionados shouldn’t miss this one, and as an introduction to Tramontana for those of us who didn’t know his name before it’s extremely valuable. Richard Cochrane