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Victor Feldman - Part 4: The Artful Dodger, 1967-1977


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'Usually I play one or two tunes a set on vibes with the group. As we grow, III probably play more. But I find the vibes a little bit limiting: I feel I can do more things on the piano, because of the very nature of the instrument. When I play vibes. I miss a pianist, or a chordal background, like a guitar or something. Thank goodness I've got Chuck, and it's fantastic with him and the drums-but that's it, you see. Eventually, I think, if we keep playing together, Tom might play some piano. That's the reason I don't play a lot of vibes, though; there's only certain things I can do to make it fill out.

'I've always used the four mallets, but I'm doing more of it now. With this group I have to. Gary Burton's influenced me a lot. He's a tremendous innovator on the instrument - a virtuoso. I really admire what he does. I love Milt Jackson, too, you know. I'm not going to start making comparisons; they're each doing their own thing.

....'As for the rock ingredient, personally I get a little bored with it; but maybe people get bored with what we do. For my taste, other idioms are more interesting; such as Bill Evans, Milt Jackson. And Brazilian music - I love it. I like variety; we try to play a few different things in contrast, from set to set.

'Of course, some of the guys are genuinely into the rock thing; they like the rhythms. Although I know some drummers who don't like rock drumming. I've always found the most interesting aspect of rock music to be the drummer and the fender bassist-the bass drum thing, the independent rhythms that get going are good. I'm only sorry that they get hold of one kind of music and jam it down everybody's throat, and it becomes a conforming, tyrannical type of thing.

'All kinds of music can be done well. It's just that there's certain types that, tonally, I get bored with very easily. I've listened to things that have been happening lately, and I admire the togetherness of it. It can be sort of anarchistic; they don't know where they're going, and yet they have a certain unity and a feeling that amazes me sometimes. So I don't put it down. Then I'm also aware that I don't get a chance to delve into listening to music as much as I might, because of my work schedule and my general mode of life. But I hope to be always striving to develop and improve myself."

Fortunately, in 1973 Gerry Macdonald of Choice Records recorded the group for an LP issued as Your Smile (Choice; issued as a Japanese CD—ABCJ). Leonard Feather once again sets the stage for us with these introductory comments from his liner notes:

"Victor Feldman's return to center stage as a leader of his own recording group is a welcome and belated event. His success as a sideman, constantly in demand in the Hollywood studios during the past decade, has kept him too busy to bring to the public a reminder of the multiplicity and caliber of his individual talents.

"Time and again his name has appeared on albums, usually in the role of percussionist. Because of the habit of typecasting so prevalent in the commercial music world, his achievements in that area have largely obscured other abilities that were more often in evidence during the first few years after he settled in California.

"As this album [co-produced by Lincoln Mayorga] buoyantly demonstrates, Feldman is a superbly creative pianist, a greatly neglected vibraphonist (he won the Down Beat Critics' Poll as New Star on vibes in 1958), a no less significantly a composer whose works, diversified though they are, have in common a consistent melodic creativity."

As Leonard summarized, it's all here: a mature and forceful command of the piano, a style of playing vibes that had noticeably veered in Gary Burton's four-mallet direction [not an easy thing to do], and a bevy of typically-Victor-fun-to-play-on compositions reflecting an admixture of bossa nova, rock and straight- ahead Jazz rhythms.

What jumps out at the listener on this recording is how in his prime Victor's piano and vibes playing are on all eight tracks [the last four of which are recorded "live" at Donte's]. His fast tempo piano playing on The Theme from I Love Lucy and blistering vibe playing on Seven Steps to Heaven are impressive for both their control and their expression of ideas. What he hears in his head he is able to instantly push out through his hands. And whatever he plays has that characteristically forceful and percussive swings that just rocks the house.

Drummer Johnny Guerin shared in one of the many conversations we had at the club during a set break: "Victor will push you right out of the building, especially when he gets it going on piano. He digs the groove in so deep that it almost feels like a physical presence. Here's this small, quiet guy who becomes an explosion of sound. And what ideas he has; constantly moving in and out of the time. His knowledge of rhythms is just incredible. Sometime when we are trading fours and eights, I like listening to his better than the ones I'm playing!"


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