(Relative Pitch)

A new American label debuts with a complex intertwining of personalities: Joëlle Léandre, a woman who has made history both in the evolution of double bass and improvisation in general, and Phillip Greenlief, a woodwind player from the Bay Area whose name is a little less known but — judging from the quality of what is heard here — fully deserves our utmost attention. The eleven “variations” that constitute the skeleton of this album (titled on the mocking of a famous Buñuel movie [That Obscure Object of Desire, (1977)], in order to stigmatize human avidity) present a series of situations in which the duo’s research appears directed towards the exploration of complementary snippets and contrapuntal opportunities. There seems to be no need of lavish excess whatsoever: the artists play as if constantly bent over on their instruments, the ears completely perked up to the reception of infinitesimal messages from the partner.

On the other hand, a large part of the music breathes and lets breathe. This is one of those rare cases in which even something that ideally should be reserved for connoisseurs is approachable by an open mind which, having not experienced an analogous level of communication before, can still individualize the fundamental mechanisms of unadulterated interplay. That the exchanges are coming from two enlightened virtuosi does help of course: Léandre’s absolute command of the subtle nuances of the arco — mixed with her proverbial grunts and vocalizations — is happily married with Greenlief’s spiky phrases, an enviable technique put at the service of a paradoxically intimate tête-à-tête.

Either in the convoluted sections or the most “serene” pieces (such as the “Variation 2” for tenor sax and contrabass) a reciprocal reverence between the performers is clearly traceable, although this never translates into optimistic complacency. In synthesis, we’re talking about music at the highest levels of concentration, each participant’s feet well planted in the ground of stylistic discrepancy.

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