After the sucess of the quintet CD Lonelyville, Sylvie Courvoisier and Mark Feldman recorded To Fly to Steal with the rhythm team of Thomas Morgan on bass and Gerry Hemingway on drums.
John Corbett writes in the liner notes: “It is organic, living, pulsing improvised music, made through listeningand playing together, and it involves, in the case of four tracks, composed thematic melodic material. Nothing aleatory about it.
There are many places where the foursome moves together as a unit, elegantly so, whether at the explosive apex of “Fire, Fist and Bestial Wail,” or in the quietude of the saltwater marsh at sunset on “Whispering Glades.” That kind of commonality feels less like one leading and others following than it does an ensemble responding to a collective calling. But check the immaculate way that the other three create a space for Mark Feldman to solo, straight out of a jazzier crescendo, at the end of “Coastline,” percussion, bass and piano sketching faintly behind his bold line. Or the way that Thomas Morgan and Gerry Hemingway beautifully improvise between the quicksilver opening statements of Courvoisier and Feldmanon “The Good Life,” setting up the place where they all joyously convene. Good life, indeed.
At the core of the quartet is the bond between the pianist and violinist, a musical and personal par nership that clearly involves all the potentiality of give and take. They positively frolic on Courvoisier’s “Messiaenesque,” the pianist’s sensitive and unsentimental harmonic acuity and limber rhythmic sense doveta ling with Feldman’s brilliant bowing, which is always tasty and fully engaged. At a lower rpm, they build the pianist’s title track together, the intensity rising and falling, swelling and relaxing, Feldman sitting out for some piano triangulation with the rhythm section, reuniting over the piano-bass motif, a violin cadenza in the brittlest and most delicate zone.”
In the hinterland in which improv can sound like contemporary classical music, spontaneity like composition and postbop like 21st-century Bach, the pairing of Swiss pianist Sylvie Courvoisier and her violinist husband Mark Feldman represent one of the most creative combinations. Feldman is a former Nashville country fiddler with a classical player's tone and precision, Courvoisier is an improvising pianist who has worked with guitarist Fred Frith, but whose classical training often surfaces. This quartet session is completed by the young bassist Thomas Morgan (recently heard in the UK with Craig Taborn) and drummer Gerry Hemingway. This absorbing session's free-improv associations are conspicuous in episodes of drifting violin figures against trickling piano musings, and abrasive chords over stabbed low-end notes and percussion furores, yet the overall impression is of audaciously reworked lyricism, and an accessible narrative shapeliness. The dancing melody of the opening Messianesque is typical of Courvoisier and Feldman's long-evolved empathy, and the suite-like Five Senses of Keen is a miniature masterpiece of solemn high-register violin figures and subtly harmonised chords, like distant Gregorian chants, interspersed with Courvoisier's punchier percussive departures. The pianist even sounds eerily like Thelonious Monk on the tramping Coastlines.
John Fordham, The Guardian Friday 5 March 2010
Pianist and composer Sylvie Courvoisier is one of those rare musicians who can bridge any perceivable gaps between open improvisation and contemporary classical music. Though the audiences for both seem to overlap, the academy hasn’t taken much notice (still), and to a point that’s perfectly fine. Courvoisier’s music (and that of regular musical partner, violinist-improviser Mark Feldman, also her husband) dovetails with post-serial composition while retaining a sense of structural organization that hits upon both freedom and arch rigor. To Fly to Steal adds the rhythm section of drummer Gerry Hemingway and bassist Thomas Morgan to the Courvoisier-Feldman duo, and among its seven pieces are three group improvisations as well as two each by the co-leaders. There’s a telling sign in Courvoisier’s opening “Messiaenesque,” its orchestral crash buoyed by a frantically eliding piano-violin line, group improvisation hinging on pizzicato snaps and collective clang. Feldman’s “The Good Life” merges an Eastern European rondo form with a swinging tempo section and a pointillist pulse, combining Bartok with Braxton. As precise as Feldman’s choices of “classicism” might be, leading to a staggering level of technicality, there’s an underlying slink and warmth to certain lines that recalls Leroy Jenkins. Courvoisier follows with a merging of insistent upward trills, clunky post-bop interpretations and a few classic Cecil-like rhythm-clusters. Rather than being an aesthetic entwining, Courvoisier and Feldman complement one another along a path of poised, dynamic execution and the genuine motion of immediacy. Romance and glacial events intersect in “Five Senses of Keen,” delicate strum and micro-prettiness supported by cymbal tap and woody pluck in a pensive disappearing act, peppered with odd-interval spikes. Ultimately, this is an excellent set of music and, for those who appreciate clear lines of organization in their abstraction, a most accessible entry into the worlds of these Downtown improvising composers.
Clifford Allen, Ni Kantu Blog, USA, August 25, 2010
released February 1, 2010
Sylvie Courvoisier: piano
Mark Feldman: violin
Thomas Morgan: bass
Gerry Hemingway: drums
Recorded in New York on July 23rd, 2009 at Sear Sound Studio. Recorded and mixed by James Farber. Assistant engineer: Chris Allen. Mastered at Algo-Rhythms by Michael MacDonald. Cover art: Amy Sillman. Graphic design: Jonas Schoder. Liner notes: John Corbett. Produced by Mark Feldman, Sylvie Courvoisier and Intakt Records, Patrik Landolt
supported by 9 fans who also own “To Fly to Steal”
I really appreciate that with such a large group of musicians the overall sound and experience of listening is really spacious, never cluttered. The lovely recording helps that a lot, and of course the compositional aspects that make it breathe are superb- it gets more and more fun as I listen again and again. Jasper Skydecker