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Mark Feldman: What Exit

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As an instrumentalist, Mark Feldman is mind-boggling. His violin technique isn't lotsa notes, it's careful phrasing and command of tone, and a huge sound which would have offended some pseudo-classicists of some decades ago. It's "Romantic"!

For a classy Feldman performance, try "Father Demo Square" here, with Anders Jormin setting the pace (the bassist may be the consistently interesting member of this quartet on this date). John Taylor's piano solo emerges nourished by the violin work which precedes it. Pianists have traditionally fed harmonic ideas to front-line soloists, but here they're dominated by Feldman's combination of harmonic intelligence, as well as his control of the harmonics of his violin.

"Ink Pin" explodes on the listener with a brilliantly played phrase, itself a brilliant conception which seems to refer simultaneously to country fiddle and to (maybe) Aaron Copland. To have both thought of that and managed its execution! Jormin's crucial on this one too, though the complete performance is largely a collage of fragments, edging too near a kind of playing by numbers.

On "Cadence" Feldman opens with a bigger sound than some viola players use. Then there's a version of something akin to Piazzolla without bandoneon, which serves to emphasize yet again that conciseness is not a characteristic of this CD. "What Exit" is another number on which Jormin shines, but I was saddened and disappointed to find my interest flagging.

Most of the 150 CDs/albums Feldman is seriously on—not to be confused with the large amount of session work which gave him an exceptional apprenticeship—are under other people's names, Feldman adding a touch like Kurt Weill to Ray Anderson's heartiness, doing the stunning things which were my introduction to his music on the night I went to hear John Abercrombie. I became fascinated—I've heard him several times and reviewed several CDs on which he made considerable contributions. He has lit and lightened up a couple of sets which demonstrated how the extra time available on a CD can demonstrate that when it was recorded, the composer, arranger or leader had no more inspiration than would have filled a 45-minute LP.

In the notes you can read about Feldman's expressed wish to make a music which is at the same time both jazz and classical/European concert legit. Counselled to not ask what you're listening to, but just listen (how passively?), you may fail after a struggle to see much of consequence in a musical development. You may strive to anticipate what is going to happen, but only for so long. Repetition can be repetitive, and waiting for something to happen can turn into realising that nothing has. Too much of this set is a matter of setting up the listener to expect. And then, like too many the train, what you need arrives too late.

Feldman plays brilliantly, but my feeling is that here he doesn't play enough, simply because he hasn't found enough for himself to play. The ideas, when they come, are nonetheless brilliant, and this quartet with Tom Rainey on drums beside Jormin and Taylor is indeed an ideal one.


Track Listing: Arcade; Father Demo Square; Everafter (in memory of David H. Baker); Ink Pin; Elegy; Maria Nuñes; Cadence; What Exit.

Personnel: Mark Feldman: violin; John Taylor: piano; Anders Jormin: bass; Tom Rainey: drums.

Title: What Exit | Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: ECM Records

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