Violinist Mark Feldman is a musician whose music I like, but I don’t follow his career obsessively; there simply aren’t enough hours in a day for me to aggressively track all the musicians I enjoy and Feldman is one of many who falls through these cracks. Therefore, I was delighted when a friend told me he was going to Feldman’s Thursday night set at The Stone, where he was playing in various configurations that week. I was already considering Feldman’s solo set Sunday night and my pal wanted to hear him in the company of drummer Tom Rainey, saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock and pianist Sylvie Courvoisier. I figured it would reverse the joyous experience I had last week of hearing pianist Angelica Sanchez in a trio first (with bassist Michael Formanek and drummer Tyshawn Sorey, no less) then in a large ensemble (with numerous luminaries). I got to hear her exceptional compositions expand. Here I thought I’d here Feldman’s work distill.
Wrong. At least on the compositions part for Feldman. When we settled in, there was a noticeable absence of music stands. I’ve been to numerous engagements at The Stone that were entirely improvised, so I wasn’t shocked or anything. At the outset, as Rainey, Laubock and Feldman traded virtuosic lines, I figured that at worst, the sum of the parts would be nice, but then Courvoisier began strumming some deeply reverberant chords on the low end of the piano and everything her bandmates were doing cohered. It also set the structure as either she or Rainey would provide big rhythmic figures to contrast other musicians. Shortly after Courvosier set the tone, Rainey repeated a series of drum licks that sounded like Roscoe Mitchell’s “Nonaah” transposed to percussion. Feldman was reserved offering riffs to contrast Laubrock’s play or even stepping back altogether. Toward the end there was stretch with Raney, creating martial figures with a handful of drumsticks lightly brushing against his kit while Courvoisier offered fleet, nimble runs across the high end of her keyboard. With Laubrock contributing short staccato bursts that finished with long elegant lines, I was reminded of Cecil Taylor, Sunny Murray and Jimmy Lyons work from Nefertiti. After about an hour they were done and the reaction nearly warranted an encore. There was a spectacular degree of ensemble unity for an improvised set among four musicians. My pal rushed to them to ask if they’d been touring. It was a reasonable inquiry.
I know what I’m doing Sunday night.