Violin, viola and cello are among the last instruments from the traditional orchestra whose sound is fully accepted in modern jazz. (You can also add oboe and bassoon to the list.)
In the process of adaptation, some players of these instruments have distanced themselves from the orchestra. One modern jazz string exponent, Mat Maneri, plays the viola in such a way as to make one forget its classical orchestral origins, as evinced most recently on his collaborative Happening
(Leo, 2006) with François Carrier. This "forgetting" happens in a number of ways including phrasing, but also the physical sound which he gets from the instrument. In other words, he happens to improvise on the viola (or violin) and just plays music.
This is not so with Mark Feldman. While he has played every imaginable style of music on his violin over the course of his career, he has been actively working to integrate the classical and jazz genres during the last twenty years. On ECM, he has worked with guitarist John Abercrombie and pianist Sylvie Courvoisier, but has recorded with many other players including John Zorn, Dave Douglas and Tim Berne.
His sound, which is tightly focused, but more importantly his gestures, rhythms, vibrato and phrasing draw very strongly from the classical side of things. His improvisations, while not rhythmically simplistic, emphasize vertical rather than horizontal rhythm, while the phrases tend to follow the harmonic changes.
If this description sounds off-putting, forget it, because the compositions on What Exit
can be very exciting and quite unpredictable. The other members of the band are superb, and their presence allows Feldman to stay on the free classical/jazz side of things without drifting into the pure classical arena. The clash of musical genres is really what this record is about.
Of the supporting trio, bassist Anders Jormin and pianist John Taylor will be familiar to ECM followers. Both are very precise players who nevertheless unequivocally play jazz. Drummer Tom Rainey has been playing with people like Tim Berne, Tom Varner and Kenny Werner since 1990 or so. Feldman's sectional, rapidly rhythmically shifting compositions give him no trouble, and he can shift from subtle implication to hard-driving statements in a flash.
Feldman's compositions of What Exit
vary widely, but their overall ethos is represented by the opening 22-minute track, "Arcade." Starting with exciting cymbal work from Rainey, Jormin joins in with a theme and the tension starts building; we wonder when things will explode. Feldman enters with a repeated single-note figure as Taylor jabs dark dense chords. However, the driving beginning becomes an introduction to a sectional piece.
The other pieces share this sectional feel. "Maira Nunes" is the most normal rhythmically. The clash of the classical and jazz impulses is, however, always there, and it makes for an exciting ride given Feldman's style.