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Sylvie Courvoisier – Mark Feldman Quartet: To Fly To Steal

Nic Jones By

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Between the membership of this quartet (Mark Feldman, Sylvie Courvoisier, Thomas Morgan, and Gerry Hemingway) embodies the twenty-first century improvising musician. All four members have recorded before and in a variety of situations of wide diversity. They bring all of the experience this implies to a program that stakes out its own territory, and from start to end, has set out a potent collective manifesto.

Drummer Gerry Hemingway has worked with Anthony Braxton's quartet in the past and it's clear that the experience has rubbed off. On pianist Courvoisier's "Messiaenesque" he's a master of sound and what it can imply. This perhaps wouldn't count for much if he wasn't keeping such empathetic musical company, whilst there's no reason to doubt that this is a group that thinks with one mind and plays accordingly.

Mark Feldman's "Five Senses of Keen" is another case in point, with the violinist working more in the contemporary music vein than that of the improvising musician as such. The division is of course marginal, some might even say arbitrary, but in the case of music so much a product of nuance as opposed to more overt gestures the distinction serves a purpose of its own, as does Feldman's innate romanticism as the piece progresses. Over the course of twelve minutes the mood—in a sense entirely at odds with the notion of mood music—runs from the lyrical to the ruminative and co-leader Courvoisier proves herself not to stand within Cecil Taylor's looming shadow. She regards the keyboard as a summation of extremes, her touch on the lowest and highest keys making for an effective summarizing.

"Fire, Fist and Bestial Wail" doesn't live up to the title, but in a good way. This is a group that knows all about subtle contrapuntal interplay and Courvoisier again proceeds by stealth, but shadowed by Morgan's bass in a stand-off in which bluster has no part but progress by stealth and feint does. Hemingway answers the call to arms in a flurry of deconstructed time and in summary the proceedings are an antithesis of slick, technically flawless but ultimately lifeless piano trio music.

The title track's brooding, apprehensive quality is thus atypical, the result of rare collective effort. The music's essentially fraught progress is undermined by all kinds of tangents as added by all four musicians. In light of this, it would hardly be surprising if the center didn't hold, but it does, resulting in a tribute to the group's deep listening abilities.


Track Listing: Messiaenesque; Whispering Glades; The Good Life; Five Senses Of Keen; Fire, Fist And Bestial Wall; Coastlines; To Fly To Steal.

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

Title: To Fly To Steal | Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: Intakt Records

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