Recommended: Mark Feldman Quartet – “Birdies for Lulu”


Mark Feldman - "Birdies for Lulu"Long-time collaborators Mark Feldman and Sylvie Courvoisier have been shaping dissonance and chaotic elements into striking constructs for years now.  It’s pretty much their staple food.  The clash of elements is as much about the sound that notes make upon collision as it is the resulting echoes.  It’s that latter feature that can render something abrasive and acerbic into an expression with a slowly unfolding beauty.  It’s also within the space of those echoes that provides an environment where tiny grooves and pockets of serenity can thrive.  It can also act as a breeding ground for melodic fragments capable of breaking every heart in the room.

Feldman swings notes around like he’s involved in a knife fight, yet his abiding precision in even the wildest moments is how he manages to get so much steam out of the briefest melodic statements.  The title-track “Birdies for Lulu” evidences this particular method, while the three-part “Cards for Capitaine” shows that Feldman is just as nimble with a melody when patience is the watchword.

Courvoisier’s seamless transitions from passages of severity to those of bliss is a mark of her style.  “Shmear” sees her interspersing bright, pretty solos with choppy, furious accompaniment, while “Natarajasana” has her opening the song with a section that combines both of those elements into the same expression.  If her notes are stars in a nighttime sky, it is then Courvoisier’s talent to emphasize both their glittering beauty and their cold, distant warmth simultaneously.

Feldman and Courvoisier bring in a new rhythm section, replacing bassist Thomas Morgan and drummer Gerry Hemingway for their counterparts Scott Colley and Billy Mintz.  And while the switch in personnel, naturally, results in new voices and new interactions, there is no drop-off in terms of experience.

Colley has added his bass to a nice mix of varied projects over the years, including an interesting folk-jazz recording under his own name.  He typically sounds like a guy who has a solid fix on his own creative voice.  But on this session, his blistering lines that string a melodic idea out as far as the horizon is strongly reminiscent of Charlie Haden’s work as a member of the Ornette Coleman quartet, and the way Feldman’s quartet gels around him at times makes those echoes of the past resonate that much stronger.  Look to “Cards for Capitaine: Part 2” as an example and, also, as one of the album’s standout tracks.

Veteran drummer Mintz has an equally diverse list of projects and collaborations to his name.  Working with Hal Galper may have been the most useful for this current session.  Galper has his own peculiar sense of cadence and time, and it would follow logically that a drummer who could calibrate his rhythm to that of Galper is likely to succeed in any number of unusually staged projects.  “Travesuras” might be his shining moment on this recording as he immerses himself in a game of shadowplay with the herky-jerky motions of Feldman’s violin and Courvoisier’s staggered cadence.  Mintz displays a dexterity that allows him to play off ideas and follow personal tangents while remaining a vital part of the group conversation.

This music possesses a striking beauty, even when it appears to be trying for a different effect.  This in itself is a remarkable achievement, but that it’s also so damn accessible and easy to connect with just makes it that much more impressive.

Your album personnel:  Mark Feldman (violin), Sylvie Courvoisier (piano), Scott Colley (bass) and Billy Mintz (drums).

Released on Intakt Records.

Available at:  Bandcamp | eMusic | Amazon CD/MP3