All About Jazz - Francis Lo Kee
Joëlle Léandre started off her musical life as a great classical bass player, an award winning student at the Conservatoire National de Musique in Paris. In ‘76 she was awarded a scholarship to work at the University of Buffalo where she came into contact with contemporary music composer Morton Feldman and subsequently began performing the works of Cage and Scelsi. Throughout this time she was also improvising, and as that improvisation was not really coming from jazz, you might wonder what interest her music holds to a jazz gazette. Well, Léandre is quite simply one of the most original and exciting improvisers around today, as well as one hell of a bass player. Bassists from any genre should check out her full tone, great intonation, extended techniques, and flawless arco work. The double bass, after all, is one of the most important instruments in jazz, and free improvisation has given the jazz world an important dose of vitamins.
The highly recommended Firedance not only uses the string instruments as a meeting point, but both players seem to have a dramatic, narrative approach to music. Though not necessarily a common name, Cooke’s track record is stellar, including performances with Joe Williams, Louie Bellson, Sun Ra, and Cecil Taylor. Her duets with Léandre are unique, sensitive, outrageous, thoughtful, gregarious; in short, deep, engaging stuff. “Firedance 3” is an amazing bass solo and “Firedance 5” showcases Cooke in a powerful and engrossing violin solo.
Downtown Music Gallery - BLG
No doubt you know French contrabassist supreme, Joelle Leandre, from her forty plus (solo/duo/trio/quartet) discs on labels like Victo, Intakt, Leo & Hat. Bay area-based violinist, India Cooke, is a more elusive figure with just one disc out on Music & Arts. Although this set took place at 10:30 a.m. on a Saturday morning, this marvelous all-acoustic duo launched into daredevil, improv fireworks immediately. This superbly recorded gem is beautifully balanced and both string players both blend and through ideas back and forth in a most impressive way. Bowing, plucking, rubbing and banging on the wood and/or strings with their ever crafty and creative spirits intertwined. Occasionally both women add their charming voices as another instrumental spice. This is most certainly some wonderful high-end improv and perfectly captured on this great disc. Sometimes delicate, sometimes explosive, it doesn't get much better than this.
All About Jazz - Jerry D'Souza
May 16, 2005
When two improvisers like Jöelle Léandre and India Cooke get together, one can expect to delight in their artistry. Bristling with ideas, they ride a wide range of sound with nary a dull moment as they make judicious use of the body and strings of the violin and bass, their voices, and—for a brief while—the rhythm of tap dancing. The concert, recorded at the 2004 Guelph Jazz Festival (an outstanding event held in Ontario, Canada), consists of seven “Firedances,” each a vignette of the art of composition and the craft of improvisation.
Cooke sets up some vibrant textures as she brings in deep hues to melodies that often palpitate with the passion of classical music. She builds the momentum in consonance with Leandre as she braids her violin with the bass, going on to create several moods which come in the shimmer and glow of a lightly flexed bow, the soar of a crescendo, and the trenchant valleys she dips into with fervour.
Léandre is a palpable presence all through, adding the counterpoint, forming the base from which the violin can ricochet with its skittering notes or entwine in thick, lustrous lines. She also uses the bass as a percussive instrument, fillibrating the strings, thunking the frame and getting rhythm to dance to her beat, a gamut of expression that is seen in all of its eloquent development and fulfillment on “Firedance 3.” And when percussion largely fills the framework of their exchange, they entice a heady propulsion through flecks on the violin, the use of the bow to resonate the strings and add chant, and the whoosh of breath to enhance the effect.
Recorded live at the Guelph Jazz Festival in 2004, this bass and violin improvised set engages the listeners in a headlock while procuring cerebral frictions and lots of rattling stimulations. This coupling of arco feelers generates languages which, if apparently coming from extraneous associations with snapping gruffness, are most of the times both pronounceable and carved in the memories of tradition. Leandre deconsecrates any iridescence in favour of timbral choices bordering on the "fabulously inharmonious", yet her colours assume the role of foundation in the exchanges; Cooke's violin becomes uproarious at times, lifting the curtains over an endless juxtaposition of styles which are indeed a unique flavour. Just in the very moments when everything risks becoming smothering, India and Joelle do some mind-boggling elegant gasconade, shifting our focus a couple of frames forward, up to where ideals have already flown.