After three albums with John Abercrombie--"Open Land", "Cat 'n' Mouse", and "Class Trip"--and the trio recording "Abaton" with Sylvie Courvoisier and Erik Friedlander, this is the first ECM leader date for violinist Mark Feldman.
Feldman is established now as one of jazz's finest string players, but "What Exit" frequently leaves 'jazz' behind, as his pieces--there are eight originals here - establish climates more frequently associated with contemporary composition. At the same time, interaction is paramount in this music and solo skills as crucial as ensemble awareness. Five years ago in an interview with the Boston Globe's Bob Blumenthal, Feldman spoke of his goal as "integration, without it being a frivolous 'crossover' thing--the real organic integration of classical and modern jazz." "What Exit" takes large steps toward the realisation of this ambition, which is itself the logical outcome of Feldman's idiosyncratic journey through the genres over the last thirty years.
He is joined on "What Exit", recorded at New York's Avatar Studio last year, by a special group of players assembled for the project--England's John Taylor on piano, the Swedish bassist Anders Jormin and drummer Tom Rainey, California-born but, like Feldman himself, long established as a central figure in New York's improvising circles. (Rainey makes his ECM debut on "What Exit".) Feldman's pieces maximise the improvising potential of each of the players, and it is immediately apparent that Rainey and Jormin are a provocative and mutually-inspiring rhythm team, providing enormous propulsion for the opening "Arcade", a 23-minute piece of ever-changing mood. Feldman's solos alone reference inspirations from raga to Bach's Chaconne to free play.
"Father Demo Square", a piece Feldman has previously recorded with both pianist Neal Kirkwood and drummer Billy Hart is a soulful ballad, "Ink Pin" a racing boppish tag game, while the jaunty title track is - we're told--a tribute to New Jersey... The demands of the material continually bring the soloists to new places. It is a broad terrain that Feldman traverses. The constant in his musical career has been change itself.
Feldman was already zigzagging between idioms in his late teens. He played in the Civic Orchestra of Chicago; the training orchestra affiliated with the Chicago Symphony, whose members included a number of significant jazz players, amongst them bassists Fred Hopkins and Steve Rodby, and earned pocket money playing Western swing and rockabilly on the weekends. He also took lessons in improvisation from local saxophone legend Joe Daley, a musician whose experience extended from bebop to the birth of the free (Daley's trio, with Hal Russell, had been one of the first American groups to improvise outside the changes).