Because free improvisation and classical music are by their very natures on opposite sides of the fence, it’s unusual to encounter musicians that work in both idioms, let alone artists who’ve mastered both. French bassist Joelle Leandre is one of those. She’s studied with John Cage, Giacinto Scelsi (both of whom have written pieces for her), and Morton Feldman, and she’s been a soloist with Pierre Boulez’s prestigious Ensemble Intercontemporain. Her improvisation credentials are equally impressive: she’s worked with Derek Bailey, Anthony Braxton, Evan Parker, and George Lewis, among others, and she’s a member of Les Diaboliques, a terrific trio with vocalist Maggie Nicols and pianist Irene Schweizer. Not surprisingly, Leandre’s improvisations are colored by her classical background. Her playing reveals a sharp minimalist edge, as she invests each stroke of the bow and each pluck of a string with the greatest possible musical value, but she avoids the dryness that often hinders such endeavors. In fact, Leandre conveys a rare wit in her music, particularly when she adds to the mix her accomplished singing, which ranges from operatic swoops to earthy growls. Leandre was slated to perform seven years ago at the old Southend Musicworks with Les Diaboliques, but her bass didn’t arrive in time, so these performances will be her first ever in Chicago. The Unity Temple gig will be solo, and the Empty Bottle concert will feature duets with Jim O’Rourke and Fred Lonberg-Holm, who like Leandre are versed in both improv and classical, and Ken Vandermark. Tuesday, 8:30 PM, Unity Temple, 875 Lake, Oak Park; 708-383-8873. Wednesday, 9 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western; 773-276-3600. PETER MARGASAK
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Ilka Shuster.