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Mark Feldman: Taking an Eclectic Path

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AAJ: Because you did play in quite a few bands that had horn sections, and everything else, electric instruments.

MF: I mean I play with Abercrombie with a microphone, so I can get pretty loud with a microphone, but not to a certain point. Back in the days when I was working with [drummer] Billy Hart's group and stuff like that, I always used a guitar amp.

AAJ: With New and Used and Mosaic?

MF: Guitar amp. When I moved to New York, it was in the late '80s, I had all the stomp pedals; I had a big budget for 9-volt batteries when I moved here [laughs]. I was way into it; I could even put them on my tongue [laughs]. But that's where you draw the line: the guys who do that, and the guys who don't [laughs]. So yeah, I was way into stomp boxes, and it was still kind of the analog days, a different vibe too. Little by little, I got out of it.

AAJ: These days you're also kind of concentrating a little bit more on leading and co-leading projects as well?

MF: A little bit, yeah. I did this record for ECM while I had a band, and that was a record called What Exit. That was 2006, with [pianist] John Taylor, [bassist] Anders Jormin, and [drummer] Tom Rainey. I led that band, did that record, and did a tour in Europe with some of those same guys, I think with just Tom. For the piano and the bass, I had a pianist from England, Huw Warren, from Wales actually, and Drew Gress on bass for the tour. Then I sort of didn't really pursue it after that. But now this new thing with Sylvie, this quartet, we're co-leading it, with Thomas Morgan and Gerry.

AAJ: It's the same instrumentation, but kind of a different...

MF: Totally different vibe. I mean the ECM thing was [that] I made an "ECM record" in the best way that I knew how. But it's different, it should be different, it's four years later.

AAJ: And then there's also the new duo record.

MF: Right, Oblivia (Tzadik, 2010), it's called that. We recorded, me and Sylvie, before, mostly playing John Zorn's music, and this is the first one we made of all of our own music.

AAJ: There was the other one, Music for Violin and Piano (Avant, 1999)...

MF: Oh yeah, we started out with one with our own music. But that was so long ago I don't even count it as a real one, I think that was a practice record [laughs]. No, not really.

AAJ: You reinterpret the one song from there ("One Too") on the new record (Double Windsor).

MF: Yeah right, we do, you're right. Glad somebody's paying attention... But we play it much better now, I think.

AAJ: It's a little more pared down, some of the sections.

MF: We cut out some excess baggage. But we have some repertoire that goes way back there for sure, but we got some new stuff too.

AAJ: Is that something you'll do often, revisit older material and put it in new context?

Mark Feldman (far right), with John Abercrombie Quartet



MF: I mean, a lot of it is, because I have such a bad work ethic, that I don't write enough new music so that I'm forced to go back and use the old music. But I only go back and use it if I really like it. I don't write a lot of tunes, but I think most of the ones I have recorded, it's because I was pretty committed and thought they were good. I'm not writing tons and then recording whatever. I tend to be the type of person that if I get a deadline, then I come up with something. And if I don't have a deadline, I tend to work on my playing, not so much on writing new music.

AAJ: So you still maintain a daily practice routine?

MF: I still practice, I still take the occasional violin lesson to keep my technique up and improve it. Yes, for sure.

AAJ: When you practice, do you practice specific things or just kind of play?

MF: I practice really, really, really basic things, like the most basic elements of playing: major scales, open strings, shifting. Really the basic things and then they apply to everything. Unless I have somebody's piece to learn which is hard, which happens, I practice really the basic stuff. It seems more and more important, the older I get...and I am getting older.

AAJ: Coming up in June, you'll be playing quite a bit in New York as co-curator [of The Stone].

MF: Yeah, that's different. I mean normally I play once a year at like Birdland with John Abercrombie and then a couple of things that John Zorn will do during the year. Once in a while I've had a gig at Merkin [Hall]. I'm playing with Sylvie, first we're doing a couple of duo sets at the Whitney Museum. There we're playing the music of another Swiss composer and conceptual artist, Christian Marclay. We're doing two pieces of Christian Marclay at the Whitney; they're having a big exhibition of his visual art and music [note: actually July 3rd & 4th, 2010].

AAJ: Is he still doing the turntable stuff?

MF: I have no idea. I don't know if he still does that, but this is more like he has artwork and scores, and we play the scores. Then we're playing in duo the 5th [of June, 2010, at The Stone]. On the 10th, I'm doing a duo with [bassist] Mike Formanek, which I did once in Italy; that was really fun.

AAJ: Because you played in his band way back also.

MF: Yeah, I played in his band and I've done other things with him.

AAJ: Is it going to be improvising?

MF: It's going to be really heavy on the improvising, but we'll have some pieces too. On the 12th, we're doing the new quartet. Then on the 14th and 15th, I go to Canada to play with a jazz flautist from Montreal that's got a little string section in his thing, and I lead the string section and play solos. His name is Francois Richard. Then I come back, and we do an older project of Sylvie's on the 19th, called Lonelyville, which was another Intakt record [2007] with [laptop artist] Ikue Mori. Then on the 26th, we do two sets of Masada String Trio, and John will be there conducting. Then July 1st, we go to Montreal Jazz Festival and do a Masada marathon. So I'm busy in June.

AAJ: With curating the program, did you have a lot of specific things in mind that you wanted to do, or was it just sort of which people were available?

MF: You know the problem is that afterward you always think, "Ahhh, I should have done more like this, and oh, I forgot this guy," and it's embarrassing because you forgot how many people you [know]. But I wanted to get some people: there are two violinists—one is really upcoming and very talented, named Scott Tixier, so I wanted to get him a gig; and then there's another one who's older, so I don't want to say he's "upcoming," but he's really talented and not maybe so known, named Zach Brock. Have you heard of him?

AAJ: I think I've heard the name, but I'm not really familiar with his music.

MF: He played in Stanley Clarke's trio, so he's gotten out there a little bit, but he's still not that well-known. So I wanted to get him on it. And then I wanted to get Hank Roberts on it. And then Sylvie wanted to present some pianists, which she did. Then the rest we just filled in with people that we knew, people we knew were good musicians.

AAJ: How long did it take to pull the schedule together?

MF: Oh, so fast. All you had to do was make a phone call. There's really not enough places to play, I guess. It's very easy to book a month there, once you get the list together and make the calls.

AAJ: You're presenting quite a nice range of different stuff then.

MF: I think so, I think it will [be].

AAJ: You've played on dozens and dozens of recordings. What would you pick out or point people to as things you are particularly proud of or that exemplify your playing?

MF: There's some that I'm really happy to have taken a part of, but it doesn't mean they have anything to do with my playing so much. One was [saxophonist] Michael Brecker's Wide Angles (Verve, 2003), the second to the last record he did before he passed away. That was such a thrill to work with him, and I was so glad. And another was a similar kind of record, and instrumentation almost, was this [saxophonist] Chris Potter record, Song for Anyone (Sunnyside, 2007). But those are records where I'm more like playing concertmaster, so to speak. And there were some records like that with [saxophonist] Lee Konitz.

I still like my solo record, Music for Violin Alone [Tzadik, 1995/2008], a lot and I like What Exit, the ECM record, a lot, and the last two that I did with Sylvie and the quartet. Man, there are some really good ones, you know. Of all those old ones, I can't really remember which ones are good or not, but I think the ones I mentioned are all good. And some stuff like Masada String Trio live, the 50th Anniversary record [50th Birthday Celebration, vol. 1 (Tzadik, 2004)], I really liked that. We just recorded another Masada String Trio record, which I don't know what it's called yet or when it will be released; Book 2 stuff, new stuff that hasn't been recorded by anyone else. That, I heard, came out really well, I actually haven't heard it, but I remember the session seemed really good.

AAJ: That's been interesting the way that with that trio, he's been able to use it for not just that music, but also some of the Filmworks stuff, the way the chemistry between the three of you seems to be really strong.

MF: Right. Well, I mean, I've known [cellist] Erik [Friedlander] since, jeez, '88 or something, played on different stuff with him. The first one I played with him was with Dave Douglas: oh, there's all those records I did, they were good. I did Dave Douglas string band, then Dave Douglas Charms of the Night Sky; those were good records.

AAJ: I think that was probably the first time I saw you play, with Charms of the Night Sky.

MF: Yeah, I had all black hair then too, it was good [laughs]. Another record I really liked, to get back to your first question, is Lucifer (Tzadik, 2008), the Bar Kokhba record. I think that's a great record. [Guitarist] Marc Ribot sounds incredible on that record. I really like that record a lot; it has kind of an effortless feeling to it when I hear it back. There's so many good records with John; you know as soon as I hang up, I'll remember everything.

But that stuff with Dave Douglas, that was good too. The stuff with Arcado String Trio, that was good. We made a record called Live in Europe (Avant, 2007) that was recorded with [cellist] Ernst Reijseger instead of Hank Roberts that came out really good. And we did stuff with Hank Roberts with a symphony orchestra that came out good [For Three Strings and Orchestra, (JMT/W&W, 1992/2004)]. There was another one called Behind the Myth (JMT/W&W, 1990/2003) that I thought was pretty good.

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