Joëlle Léandre


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At the Guelph Jazz Festival (Ontario, Canada) on September 11, 2004, at the unlikely hour of 10:30 a.m., Joëlle Léandre took the stage with violinist India Cooke for a torrid first meeting that should remain one of Léandre's best concerts recorded -- and considering the Great Lady of the Double Bass' extensive discography, this is no small feat. Something clearly happened on-stage, something clicked, because Firedance is exactly that: a passionate choreography of strings. Léandre and Cooke both sound very relaxed and at ease, interacting with the audience, clearly having fun, and feeling good about their chemistry. They keep their playing short, engaging in five- to seven-minute improvisations that start without hesitation and end with perfect timing. It is surprisingly easy for two string players to play side by side and ignore one another. These two listen to and communicate with each other on numerous levels, their music escalating to the level of a quartet or sextet before crumbling back down to two fragile bows. There is a lot of emotion and playfulness involved. "Firedance 6" and "Firedance 2" are very poignant, although it would be hard to top "Firedance 5," in which Cooke delivers a magnificent example of solo grace. One can actually hear the audience resume breathing after each piece. In fact, the audience is the source of the only negative comment about this album. Their behavior is exemplary, but their applause is mixed much too loudly. They literally explode with applause and cheers in your living room, which is startling at first and can become annoying in the long run. That minor point aside, Firedance ranks as one of Léandre's best live sets and is a must-have for fans of improvised string music. Léandre concludes her liner notes by saying "Let's do this again soon!" That's a brilliant idea.

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