Courvoisier & Feldman’s “Time Gone Out”

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WP 2019 - 2TIME GONE OUT / FELDMAN-COURVOISIER: Homesick for Another World. Limits of the Useful. Blindspot. Cryptoporticus. Blue Pearl. COURVOISIER: Éclats for Ornette. Time Gone Out. FELDMAN: Not a Song, Others Songs / Mark Feldman, vln; Sylvie Courvoisier, pno / Intakt INT326

Avant-garde pianist Sylvie Courvoisier and violinist Mark Feldman, who are a married couple and have performed for more than two decades in the Courvoisier-Feldman Quartet, have also played solely as a duo on and off since 1997. This, their latest release, shows just how good free jazz can be when performed by master musicians, both of whom have classical backgrounds.

The difference between musicians of this caliber and those who just play off-the-wall figures is that Courvoisier and Feldman understand musical structure. As a result, their “free-form” jazz playing actually does have form; it’s just not a preset structure, written down and played from paper. Since they both have a firm grounding, both can hear where the other is going and thus invent figures to complement one another while contributing to the ongoing dialogue.

One can infer this, in part, from the fact that the various pieces they play on this CD are attributed to one, the other, or, more often, both. I’m sure they would simply indicate that these are free-form improvisations without any starting point or direction if they were so. Of course, most of the album’s music was co-composed by both musicians, but this, too, still indicates that some ideas were worked out in advance and that the ensuing performances are improvisations on something.

One of the more striking things about their performances is the fact that Feldman retains his strong classical technique in this idiom. He plays with a tight but noticeable vibrato; his tone is, for the most part, rich and full except for those moments where he purposely plays on the edge of the strings for dramatic effect (as he does in the very opening of Homesick for Another World). Courvoisier’s classical training is also evident in her rich, deep-in-the-keys keyboard approach, and thus, together, they do indeed create “another world” for the listener to inhabit. At about the 13:28 mark in Time Gone Out, the longest piece on this CD at 19:50, Feldman plays some extraordinary fast runs that would be beyond the technical limits of many purely jazz violinists. And, at 3:41 into Not a Song, Other Songs, Courvoisier and Feldman play together contrapuntally in the manner of classical artists—except that they have a jazz beat, and are improvising the music rather than reading from a score.

Their music is consistently atonal but not 12-tone. It has its basis in harmony, but harmony that is fluid and uses primarily rootless chords, which removes any feeling of gravity from under the listener’s feet. The phrases they use are primarily strongly accented but occasionally, as in the first (Homesick for Another World) and last (Blue Pearl) works, also utilize lyrical passages. Courvoisier only seldom uses tone clusters and does not, at least in this release, play the strings inside the piano as other avant-garde pianists do. Nor does Feldman engage in any trick devices. The material aside, they play their instruments in a fairly orthodox manner.

Courvoisier’s music does not really swing in the conventional sense of the term; it is merely improvised music with a strong rhythm. Feldman swings a little more than she does, but not as hard as did such noted jazz fiddlers as Joe Venuti, Stéphane Grappelli, Ray Nance or David Balakrishnan. Yet they complement one another; they fill the little bit of a void that exists in each others’ playing, making a complete whole of two disparate styles.

This is a truly fascinating CD, well worth hearing!

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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