Though Morton Feldman's early concerts were commonly shared with such experimental classical composers as John Cage and Earle Brown, Feldman (1926-87) would also go hear jazz at the Five Spot and Jazz Gallery. Much of his spaciously composed works for solo instruments and small groups actually provide a foundation for fascinating jazz renditions, and it's a wonder that his name isn't heard more in the more avant-garde, contemporary classical-inspired, or European jazz circles.
The work of the late great New York-born composer has given birth to this overdue compilation tribute disc. And though what is heard herein was not composed by him, there are convincing original jazz pieces written as homage to and inspired by Feldman, utilizing his exquisite harmonies and resonating use of space. Mike Wofford's "Quietsville exploits the sonic textures so common in Feldman's compositions. The trio of piano, bass (Rob Thorsen), and drums (Joe LaBarbera) works individually without crisscrossing or competing. Ken Vandermark's "Hbf series for Morton Feldman is, in essence, five miniatures (ranging from half a minute to 1:40) by the Vandermark 5. The textures and clarity of the leader and Dave Rempis' various softly played reeds with brass effects, solid bass, and lightly played drums (performed primarily on brushes or light mallets) brings to mind a classic jazz score to some black and white French film from the '50s.
For eleven minutes, Robert Carl's "Duke Meets Mort ever-so-subtly takes six chords from Ellington's "Mood Indigo and in a cyclic meditation processes them through a Feldman-like filter, utilizing the spirit and stamp of both great composers while gently taking the ever-so familiar theme into an altogether new reality performed by the Vienna Saxophone Quartet.
Feldman's works could be notoriously longup to five hours!so Rova saxophonist Larry Ochs' 27-minute "Tracers (for Anthony Braxton and Morton Feldman) is a walk in the park by comparison. The reed octet of Jon Raskin, Vinny Golia, Glenn Spearman, Dave Barrett, Tim Berne, Steve Adams, and Bruce Ackley hauntingly threads a continuous flow of interweaving solos and harmonics mounding to a quiet bagpipe-like undercurrent drone, as if a string section inspired by Feldman's orchestral tendencies. And perhaps one of the most unique tracks is pianist Daniel Goyone's gently stretched two-and-a-half minute Cuban guajira theme, "For Morton Feldman, for piano and vibes/percussion (Thierry Bonneaux), one of the few consistently rhythmic instances on the CD to which you can't help but tap your foot.
Last month, the S.E.M. Ensemble performed Feldman's "The Turfan Fragments at Zankel Hall and though a not-so-jazzy rendition, the potential for Feldman's works to be taken into a jazz context is evident. Feldman's publisher (Universal Edition) just announced the forthcoming publication of the composer's hitherto unpublished and unperformed 1984 arrangement of Kurt Weill's "Alabama Song for jazz ensemble. "Fascinating how the Feldman jazz connection is unfolding! Chris Villars (this compilation's producer) recently said. It's about time.