If Joëlle Léandre has a rich discography, especially when it comes to the period 1999-2001, Kazue Sawaï remains severely underdocumented -- a shame. This CD from the French label In Situ preserves a very good concert by the two women for Radio Bremen, recorded in June 1999. To play with the bassist, Sawaï chose as her primary tool the bass koto. It turns out to be such an excellent decision that the first minutes of the first track leave the listener wondering who's on the left and who's on the right. Only when Léandre starts bowing the strings is the solution given. The two musicians use high amounts of finesse, slowly building momentum, retracting when things could get too confrontational (there's a nice example of that in the last piece), leaving room for soloing. At first, Léandre seems attracted by the Eastern heritage of the koto and its player: Her pizzicato emulates Sawaï's plucking, and when she briefly sings in track two, she uses Japanese inflections. But as the performance continues, she comes back to her usual, European self, which gives way to something less caricatured and more captivating. This is not a "West vs. East" clash; only two string instruments with different sonorities, two musicians using different techniques. Both try to shake off the shackles of their respective tradition. Here's the punchline: They succeed.
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