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Friday, September 5, 2014

Sylvie Courvoisier Mark Feldman Quartet - Birdies for Lulu (Intakt, 2014) ****

By Hugo Truyens

One’s listening mind can never again be a blank slate, years of hearing and listening have etched grooves, some long and trailing, some sort of wandering off aimlessly, and any sound entering has the tendency to activate one or more of these grooves thus creating a pattern of sometimes recognizing but always anticipating the next sound.  A skillful player plays with this giving and not giving, resolving and thwarting, challenging and rudely interrupting, all this guided by his own voices and sent out to other voices, other rooms.  In this missive we find ourselves with Sylvie Courvoisier on piano, Mark Feldman on violin, Scott Colley on bass, Billy Mintz on drums.

They begin with a suite, “Cards for Capitaine”, according to the liner notes dedicated to an old friend, an expert in Sanskrit.  Old languages come to us in shards and fragments, torn loose from their moorings and it is up to us to find meaning, renew acquaintance.  Mark Feldman sketched musical segments on index cards and let indeterminacy coupled with his own evoked memories combine to create a barrage of snippets, some short and unresolved some drawn out.  Let me give you some impressions in poor words : on a repeating left hand theme, bows scrape and weave and smear, pizzicatos punctuate, bass takes over repeating undulations to spread a bed for romantic violin and Debussy-esque skittering, leading to strumming the piano and coaxing the violin into the gentle calm of an uncluttered mountain lake, strings are pulled and bowed and upon mallet sounds piano enters the purely romantic and points the violin and bowed bass into the hazy distance.  There be whales out there.  And shifting shoals of herring.  Then over to the driving pulse of “Shmear”. Not for long though, the piano finds the beginnings of an anthem, gets bored quickly and hands things over to other strings, low bass, sparse sounds, Shostakovich country (to me), the violin launching into a mad melody and the piano coming in from the left and bringing the whole to a rapturous boil. And back to the unfinished anthem, not finishing it this time.

The quiet center, the eye of the hurricane bears the name of a yoga posture and holds it nicely. Prolonged breathing (though no wind instruments are present) with a subtle bass solo, muscles relax, tendons lengthen : “Natarajasana” is a glorious heart-opener that asks us to be stable yet at ease, committed yet non-attached, and fully engaged yet at peace.

“Downward Dog” brings you back to life after a long and tiring day at the office and allows Sylvie Courvoisier ample space for a dense solo.  Wereupon “Birdies for Lulu” call and take you out in the woods where call and response flitter through the dappled shadows. Messiaen anyone? “Travesuras” then, playing games, hopscotching, hithering and thithering and the final track “Coda for Capitaine” brings us round to the beginning, riverrun, the eternal present wherein jazz exists.  “Jazz is and always has been more of an attitude than a style.” (Art Lange).

This is highly original and new music, steeped in tradition but treated with the measured, ordered lucidity that brings ineluctable joy to the paradox of controlled freedom.  Listen.