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Mark Feldman & Sylvie Courvoisier: Oblivia & To Fly to Steal

Kurt Gottschalk By

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Mark Feldman & Sylvie Courvoisier
Oblivia
Tzadik
2010


Sylvie Courvoisier—Mark Fledman Quartet
To Fly to Steal
Intakt
2010


The composer Olivier Messiaen might seem an odd vista from which to triangulate upon the spousal and musical partnership of violinist Mark Feldman and pianist Sylvie Courvoisier, but at least from the vantage of their recent releases it's a point suggested by the artists themselves. Courvoisier's piece "Messiaenesque," assumedly titled for the 20th Century French composer, is the one piece repeated on both the duo disc Oblivia and their quartet record To Fly to Steal, where they're joined by Thomas Morgan (bass) and Gerry Hemingway (drums).

Messiaen is no doubt best known for having composed "Quatuor pour la fin du temps" while being held in a concentration camp during World War II, but he was also a preeminent composer of sacred music during his time and gained much inspiration from listening to bird songs. It's perhaps the birds that are most heard in Courvoisier's dedication and in much of the music that she and Feldman make together. There is, throughout Oblivia a sort of persistent lightness, the firm insistence of a small creature—not weak by any stretch, but still delicate. The pizzicato and piano keys make small flurries; bowed violin against the occasionally strummed and muted piano strings make for unusually graceful passages. Both players are extraordinarily sensitive in going toward and away from their instruments' orthodox voices. With her background in European avant-garde composition and improvisation, Courvoisier tends to bring more abstraction to the picture, whereas Feldman—with his long history as an interpreter and session player—is more the melodicist. But what's important is how well they intuit meeting grounds across the 11 pieces here. With only one track breaking ten minutes and half of them at three or under, there is at once the feeling of pastiche and, at the same time, a coherent and beautiful whole.

That lovely balance becomes all the more precarious when arranged in four points instead of two. To Fly to Steal, recorded in July 2009—just two months prior to Oblivia—finds the pair with a rhythm section no less subtle and sensitive. The session includes two compositions each from Courvoisier and Feldman, as well as three group improvisations and at times has an unexpectedly jazzy feel, especially in the bright, tuneful outbursts couched in Feldman's pieces. The group improvisations unsurprisingly exhibit pullings from different directions, but even then with a wizened ease, abetted by the fact that there aren't horns to focus the listener's attention.

What's perhaps nicest about both discs, seen in light of Courvoisier and Feldman's individual catalogues, is the fact that they both seem fresh. Maybe not in a way that can easily be pinned down but one that is still rewarding—and which speaks strongly for two players who seem exhilarated by new discovery.


Tracks and Personnel

Oblivia

Conky's Lament; Dunes; Messiaenesque; Purveyors; Oblivia de Oblivion; Double Windsor; Bassorah; Vis-a-vis; Samarcande; Fontanelle; Sous en Rêve Huileux.

Personnel: Mark Feldman: violin; Sylvie Courvoisier: piano.

To Fly to Steal

Tracks: Messiaenesque; Whispering Glades; The Good Life; Five Senses of Keen; Fire, Fist and Bestial Wail; Coastlines; To Fly to Steal.

Personnel: Sylvie Courvoisier: piano; Mark Feldman: violin; Thomas Morgan: bass; Gerry Hemingway: drums.


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