September 2006

Bill Dixon & Joëlle Léandre
at the Guelph Jazz Festival
September 8, 2006St. George's Anglican Church Guelph
The sound of unity
by Tom Sekowski with photos by Roger Humbert
It’s always an event when trumpet master Bill Dixon comes to Canada. I believe last time he was in the general vicinity was four years ago at the ambitious, yet often misunderstood Cecil Taylor, Tony Oxley gig at FIMAV (Festival international de musique actuelle Victoriaville). For months afterwards, people talked about the lack of excitement that seemed to be evident throughout that concert and about the tension that was felt in the air between the three improvisers. (Truth is the same people who dished out this criticism simply didn’t listen well enough to hear the real deal. I, for one, thought the concert was an unqualified success.)

Dixon’s appearance at Guelph with bassist Joëlle Léandre was enough to excite even those riddled by the FIMAV event. A man of great years of experience playing with someone who may be half his age — what evident juxtapositions would there be? Would there be tension in the air or would we hear something truly outstanding?

St. George’s Anglican Church is an ideal acoustic space. As with the mind-blowing Roscoe Mitchell / Pauline Oliveros duet seen at this venue last year, this duo did not disappoint one bit. At the very start, Léandre expressed her great appreciation for the opportunity to play with the great master. Sure enough, though she sounded humble, her performance was something else altogether.

While Bill Dixon started off the performance with a series of reverberating trumpet blows — each one more skewed than the next — his partner was nothing but fire. As Dixon proceeded to process his sounds and his trumpet began to sound more warbled with each passing minute, Léandre was all fire and brimstone. She has a muscular physical presence on her instrument. Not unlike Barry Guy, she plays the whole instrument. In addition to playing arco and plucking the strings like crazy, she would tap on the strings and pound on the wooden body as well. Sometimes the sounds were complementary to what Dixon was doing with his trumpet, but for the most part, she sounded as if she were working against the grain.

For better or worse, Léandre was a woman possessed. I’ve been saying this for years and I’m hoping someone is listening; she is at one with her instrument. She doesn’t simply play her bass — she in fact becomes her instrument. She transforms her whole self into the sounds that she makes.

Bill Dixon

Joëlle Léandre
That’s not to say Dixon was any worse on this particular night. It’s just that he seemed to be stuck in the same general mood-setting mode for much too long. The trumpet mutations he presented were good and even thrilling to hear in moments, but he was more into creating a textural place rather than showing a vested interest in playing a duo show. If anything, Léandre is the one who met Dixon more than halfway. She was the one who was in control, the one setting the pace, and she was the one with the overriding strength of the improvisation at hand.
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Tom Sekowski
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Roger Humbert
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The Live Music Report
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