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Witnessing in-demand US violinist Mark Feldman in this specialist jazz club was rather like finding a Michelin-starred chef in a small-town diner. Feldman’s career has taken him through the studios of Nashville and New York to being the featured soloist on commissioned contemporary works. His compositions brilliantly extract the essences of these diverse experiences, while his delivery has the brio of the concert violinist, the verve of the jazz improviser and a tone to die for. The Vortex, an intimate venue, was chosen to promote his album What Exit in the UK.
Feldman’s pieces integrate musical traditions with the formal logic of a classical concerto. Take the opening “Ink Pin”. A banshee folk-dance cadenza, a brief clarion call and a rumbling drum break, each separated by an agonisingly long silence, opened a panoply of rhythms and structures. “Stumblebums”, the one new piece, veered from tragedy to farce, while “Arcade”, which filled most of the second set, started with a polyrhythmic violin drone that was so intensely sustained that after its delivery Feldman momentarily slumped exhausted on a chair. A multitude of emotions later, the drone returned triumphantly to accompany a concluding full-on drum solo.
Elsewhere, austere piano chords hovered behind hot club violin, churning fusion introduced abstract melodies, and sombre minor-key themes sustained minor-key romanticism, the line between compositions and arrangement thoroughly blurred. Short unison passages emerged in an open-ended blowing session, and free-form shenanigans yielded to impressionist minimalism on the turn of two briefly sustained chords.
Impressively, the band’s group sound really lets the music breathe and flow, their control of dynamics brilliantly manipulating mood and intensity, while extended features, unaccompanied solos and duets demanded that individuals shone. Feldman’s singing tone, plangently pure in even the highest ranges, was matched by Huw Warren’s resonant touch on grand piano, Drew Gress’s round-toned bass and Tom Rainey’s got-it-covered drumming. Swinging hard when required, he also had the uncanny knack of creating elliptical rhythms that tantalisingly perked up just when they seemed about to topple over the edge.