CD reviews

Mark Feldman – ‘Sounding Point’

Mark Feldman – Sounding Point
(Intakt Records, Intakt CD 354. CD review by Adrian Pallant)

Violin … free jazz … isn’t that possibly a touch narrow and ‘out there’ for a 44-minute solo recital? Well, not when the album is in the stable yet exploratory hands and mind of New York-based veteran Mark Feldman.

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The past few decades have seen Feldman work through a vast catalogue of projects and recordings in various genres (including rock, country, classical, jazz) alongside the likes of John Abercrombie, Joe Lovano, John Zorn, Gerald Cleaver and Chris Potter. These collaborations have included a number of ECM Records releases, including his own quartet album ‘What Exit’; and he was part of the line-up for Huw Warren’s warmly-regarded ‘Hundreds of Things a Boy Can Make’. In full, it’s an extraordinary, wide-ranging biography.

For Sounding Point, Feldman returns to the solitary world heard in 1995’s ‘Music for Violin Alone’, but his playing is now replete with all the intervening years’ experiences and influences. It makes absorbing listening across a chameleonic range of timbres and extended techniques, while the violinist’s traversal and blending of styles can sometimes tease the mind into ‘recognising’ a fleeting phrase or genre in these eight excursions (just two are by other notable improvisers – Ornette Coleman, and Feldman’s wife and longtime musical colleague Sylvie Courvoisier). He also explodes any myth that ‘free’ translates as ‘unapproachable’ or ‘self-indulgent’, for these multifaceted landscapes can be exhilarating, playful, capricious or intensely beautiful, with the potential to trigger myriad responses.

Sylvie Courvoisier’s As We Are is presented with vigour as virtuosic melodies and glissandi are complemented by showtime double-stopped ‘taa-dahs’, chromatics and pizzicati, while the impetuous propulsion, rhythm and clamour is compelling. Feldman’s security is never in doubt, regardless of the challenging, ever-changing palette he makes use of, including the searingly discordant, bouncing-bow and heavily-plucked techniques of Rebound. Unbound, is more tentatively spatial, featuring wide vibrato and high-pitched siren wails. At over seven minutes’ duration, Ornette Coleman’s Peace Warriors is as much an account of performing endurance as it is ingenuity. One of three pieces to benefit from judicious multi-tracking, its inherent jazz/blues footing is apparent; but there’s so much more to discover, including its appealing cajun-invoked gallop, humorous chutes and loquacious, tremulant swagger.

There’s such remarkable variety in these singular expressions. Title track Sounding Point delivers a particularly beautiful serenity, Feldman’s overlays of muted solo lines and softly sustained chords fascinatingly resembling Native-American flute and harmonium. In more classically-imbued Maniac might be found traces of Silvestrov and Glass, maybe even Arnold Bax – the Englishness of the latter could also be imagined in the tremulant, dipping flight of Viciously, also suggesting Vaughan Williams’ ‘Lark’ or the ‘Curlew’ of Peter Warlock. To close, New Normal (the language of our times) seemingly grapples for a way ahead through sneering, descending vibrato, prism-refracting harmonics and fluctuating tonal qualities.

Mark Feldman’s technical prowess and boundless creativity shine through in this curious repertoire of composed and freeform music. Of his 1995 solo debut, he is quoted as saying that his technique was deficient, “so I worked on it”. However modest that evaluation was or is, a quarter of a century later, Sounding Point is a phenomenal, personal statement.

LINK: Sounding Point on Intakt Records

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