For some jazz fans, the most interesting moment in a recording occurs when the composition's resolution becomes questionable. There's a sort of delicious feeling of abandon when it's not exactly clear where things are headed.
There are several flavors of this near-chaos. The first is the most conservative: a soloist stays within the chord progressions(s) of the tune while going so far out in his improvisations that it seems as if the basic song structure has been abandoned. The second falls more toward the other end of the spectrum — free play. Here, there are still "rules," but they're more difficult to discern. Just try wrapping your ears around some Art Ensemble of Chicago or Peter Brotzmann. Thought-provoking and vicious at the same time.
Somewhere in between these two extremes falls music like Mark Feldman's What Exit. What, exactly, should be made of the over 20-minute sonic excursion, "Arcade," that opens this album? Jazz? Classical? Soundscape? The very fact that it's tough to categorize means you're in for an interesting listening session.
"Arcade" begins with a quick ride cymbal pattern filled out by a series of bass runs. Feldman's violin soon follows with a slow-building, single-note ostinato that frames some piano chords (John Tayler) that appear to be setting up a theme of sorts. "Appear" being the key word, as there really is no theme, at least not in the usual sense. The drums move in to accentuate the piano chords before almost everything falls away, leaving just the piano…circling, circling….and then the violin reappears to fashion some ethereal call and response. It's soulful, a little spooky, and downright exhilarating. With sixteen more minutes (and many more surprises) to go, "Arcade" can be thought of as a series of interconnected aural vignettes. Great stuff.
The complement of What Exit is widely varied, showcasing the great flexibility of Feldman's group. Given Felman's history with John Zorn's Masada String Trio, this should come as no suprise. There's the stop and start energy of "Ink Pin," the pensive openness of "Everafter," the swing of "Maria Nunes," the warm drone of "Elegy," and the high-energy fun of the title (and closing) track. While Felman's violin leads the way, extra credit must be given in particular to the woody sinuousness of Anders Jormin's bass work as well as the just-this-side-of-Joey Baron drumming of Tom Rainey (who is compelling me to go and revisit his work with Tim Berne).
If you give What Exit a try, just keep this one thought in mind: music does not have to make sense. At least, not right away. The key to expanding your musical horizons is to be willing to accept a little of the unknown. Just like life, eh?