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Passaggio by Silvie Courvoisier Joëlle Léandre and Susie Ibarra

Traditional Jazz listeners have always thought of Jazz as a conversation between the players; no matter what your instrument in an ensemble situation, you are provided opportunities to encourage, goad, push, lead, pull back, agree, or directly contradict your fellow bandmates, but always within the form of the song. And though you may diverge briefly from the key range or even the time signature, harmony always has the last say.

So what happens when there’s no written page, no chord charts, and no composed form? What’s the effect when there’s no melody to neatly bookend your solo choruses, your interludes, your "fours" or "eights"? Where can music that’s got no time signature, no key range, and is more or less invented on the spot take the human mind? These are questions John Cage left us with his concepts of "non-intentional" music, and Courvoisier, Léandre, and Ibarra are still searching for the answers.

Their playing is superior technically, but it’s difficult to gauge them since they rarely play the normal registers of their instruments. In fact, they seem to be doing everything they can to make the ordinary quite unrecognizable sometimes. In "Mini Two", Léandre is scraping away at uncharted regions of her bass, bowing it beyond the bridge to get a high-pitched nasal squeal the everyday Jazz bassist might cringe at. Courvoisier loves the very highest and/or lowest notes on the piano, tinkling playfully with the right hand before carpet bombing us with the left. Ibarra exhibits a brooding tendency to be tense, brief, and fairly unobtrusive, even dropping out entirely for long periods, but when the players gain momentum she is an explosion of speed and volume.

For all its achievements as a truly forward-looking work of great bravery, Passaggio's problems stem from its inability to be much more than an art piece. That’s my problem with Cage’s work, too; free and random music might be a new and original idea, but that doesn’t make it sound good. The instruments on the album rumble, fumble, mumble and clash, set on a tack for disaster like a listing galleon, and they do it on every track! This is a tense, confusing, and disturbing work that will certainly stimulate your mind, but probably not your ears.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Silvie Courvoisier Joëlle Léandre and Susie Ibarra
  • CD Title: Passaggio
  • Genre: Free Jazz / Avante Garde
  • Year Released: 2002
  • Record Label: Intakt Records
  • Musicians: Sylvie Courvoisier – Piano Joëlle Léandre – Bass Susie Ibarra – Drums
  • Rating: Three Stars
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