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Mark Feldman: His Own Music, His Own Sound, His Own Aesthetic

By Published: January 29, 2007
AAJ: Was this the only recorded version that you did of this piece? Or did you try it a few times?

MF: I did two takes. So the two things that are going on are unison passages with things going on after that are usually free, but the instrumentation, or the function of the different people, is predetermined. Like there's one where the bass is the soloist and others are droning—simple stuff. Then there's this other modular approach that I just mentioned to you. So if I have a chance to tour for any extended period, I thought it would be great to write new modules, so to speak, new events, and tape them into the players' music without the other team knowing it. Because you're supposed to listen to the other and react—make your decision about which number you're going to call next.

It didn't really come to me in a direct way, but I don't think I would have had these ideas if I wasn't familiar with contemporary classical music. But it also came from being familiar with working with [John] Zorn—just having the concept that someone might make a decision that controls another person to make a certain kind of musical gesture is something that I experienced in [Zorn's group] Cobra.

AAJ: Well, what you were saying just a minute ago certainly made me think of him.

MF: Right. But as soon as you were to write that on paper, people would have a whole impression about the quality of the music—which would be wrong. Not to say that you should write it or not. John's music is very, very strong and sounds a certain way. But you can use some of these ideas and get incredibly different results.

AAJ: You almost describe "Arcade as a sort of experiment that you were curious to try, to put into action. Were you surprised by the results?

MF: No, and in fact I don't consider it an experiment. I could hear it—at least conceptually—so strongly that I was sure it was going to work. As long as people left enough space, I was sure it was going to work. As long as people were really kind of in the moment and making their decisions based upon what they were hearing.

AAJ: Coming after something as vast and austere as "Arcade, "Father Demo Square seems like familiar old swinging jazz—which is certainly is not. It does swing, and it's got heads, but it's knottier than that with its mixed meter and stop-time quality. It is wonderful, however. I particularly like John's—well, I'm going to call it comping—over Anders' bass solo.

MF: Oh, it's totally comping.

AAJ: It's very un-clichéd comping, though.

MF: Yeah, he's incredible. His whole playing is so recognizable and un-clichéd—but at the same time, it's so clear and he fulfills all the functions that need to be fulfilled without sounding like somebody else.

AAJ: I can't think of another pianist who could play around your violin as impeccably as he does on this recording.

MF: He was totally on that level that he was at, and at the same time, totally concerned about which register he should be in, in order for the violin to speak, all that kind of stuff that made it work. He's just such a great musician, and I think he's trying to always make it work. Not just have a preprogrammed agenda that, "This is my way, and this is my shit. Because rhythmically, too, he is such a master of subdivisions. That's what I feel. Also, he's a master of playing with the other—if he wasn't so musical, he could comp in a way that was much more interesting than any of my solos. You would be listening to the comping. But he never went there.

AAJ: To me, there's something profoundly unsettling and inconclusive about "Elegy. It seems so simple in its structure—a sort of alternating of your long chordal violin sighs with these rumbling drum, piano and bass statements. But it's fascinating. What can you tell me about this piece?

MF: Well, I first recorded it on one of the only other records I've done as a leader. I did it eleven years ago or so, and it was called Music for Violin Alone [Tzadik, 1995]. A solo, unaccompanied violin record. So I wrote it a long time ago. My model in my mind was kind of the chorale from the "Histoire du Soldat —the "Soldier's Tale by Stravinsky. It's not that I even looked at the music; I just thought about that piece and how great it was, and then wrote my own piece [laughing]. That's my idea of a model.

I think also, in wanting to make my own kind of statement, I went so far as to say, "I'm going to have a song on my own record where I don't even solo, because musically, it's going to be better. I just wanted to really go there, because normally the question is whether or not you're going to take the first solo—if we go back to the stereotypical things we were talking about before. Normally, the biggest decision is, "Should I solo first or not? And then I wrote this piece, and I realized that it would really be the most effective if I pitted the violin against the rhythm section. So whatever I'm playing—these kinds of church or chorale things, these hyper-Romantic kinds of big, blocky statements—let the rhythm section respond. I thought it was really nice to have a piece where there wasn't a violin solo.

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