Few musicians possess the spontaneity and sheer presence of French bassist Joëlle Léandre and English vocalist Phil Minton. Here the two senior masters meet on a Paris stage in October 2016, delivering a three-part concert Si, lence/ Is/ blu, ish. Léandre is a master of finding fresh dimensions and new voices in her instrument, and it’s a joy to hear her matched with the world’s most unpredictable vocalist.
Minton’s sheer weirdness declares itself in the first instant with a melody that is at once multiphonic and choked, set against a line of alternately pizzicato and arco bass. Minton creates his own sound world, at times spraying language that might be heard in a dream, always at the edge of comprehension. Sometimes words arise in a comic whirlwind, his “song” a living cut-up of voices from Donald Duck to Tom Waits. One outburst here suggests Jerry Lewis imitating another late Louis—Armstrong—in a festival of gargling, coughing, and anaesthetized scat singing, high-speed gibberish pitched between cartoon and a nightmare of history.
Léandre is an ideal partner in this, whether she’s picking up on and feeding a certain flamenco echo or spreading a broad orchestral canvas, a noble, timeless, surging musical architecture. It’s all superbly directed, providing a formal grandeur at once transient and eternal, a sonic theatre in which Minton soars. He sometimes whistles, and there are several moments when Léandre sings as well, the two amplifying an empathy that is everywhere implicit.