Mark Feldman violin
John Taylor piano
Anders Jormin double-bass
Tom Rainey drums
Recorded June 2005 at Avatar Studios, New York
Engineer: James A. Farber
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Mark Feldman belongs to that selective cadre of jazz violinists ruled by such greats as Noel Pointer and Stéphane Grappelli, all while honing a storyteller’s edge so much his own that he might one day be seen as the pioneer of a new tradition. Should that ever be the case, then the 23-minute “Arcade” which begins What Exit—Feldman’s first leader date for ECM—will certainly comprise a central chapter of his scripture. It is a quintessential statement for both album and artists in kind. One first notices the delicate tracings of drummer Tom Rainey, who throughout the album shows the spectrum of his touch. Into that soil bassist Anders Jormin presses his feet like an archaeologist about to embark on a vast improvisational survey. Only when pianist John Taylor fills those footprints with plaster does Feldman whisper into being. The band almost comes together, part by part, like some parthenogenetic steam train, coalescing from metal and gristle and steam, alighting upon a track fully formed and ready to chug. But just as the ride is about to begin, Feldman and Taylor pause to take stock of things. The latter fades for Jormin’s arco dovetailing, haunting the sub-terrain as Feldman beguiles with Bach-like arpeggios before, ever the feline, slinking into a trio with Jormin and Taylor, interjected with popping duet statements with Rainey. Such eruptive flip-flopping becomes more complex and fragmentary as the train moves forward, engaging the quartet in various combinations of resolve and dissolve. “Arcade” is therefore appropriately titled, filled as it is with spontaneous sounds, which after a while take on a cadence of their own in the interest of play.
The cerebral challenges of this behemoth introduction are rewarded by “Father Demo Square,” second of the album’s eight Feldman originals. This one more smoothly and expectedly tallies the invigoration of the violinist’s characteristic grammar. Jormin takes an early solo, swinging in the loose netting woven by Taylor and Rainey, but it is Feldman’s restless beauties that overtake the foreground, courting implosion at every turn. From foreground to underground, the memorial tune “Everafter” balances cinematic foreboding with understated grandeur. The branches of Taylor’s encroaching pianism hang ripe with fruit, their scent lingering like the double stop that ends with its swan breath. As in the later “Elegy,” Feldman cuts a bitter shadow, slaloming through his backing trio’s loosely upholstered interplay along the way.
There is, however, a brighter side to this moon. Brightest in “Ink Pin,” a rousing throwback that trades licks freely toward swift-footed unity. This brilliant track boasts the special combinatory force of Jormin and Feldman, gilding the frame from start to finish. The Brazilian flavor of “Maria Nuñes” adds spice to the night, trading strings for strands in jagged, sparkly development. The tenderness of “Cadence” tips the scales yet again toward shadow, giving way at last to the light of the title track. Between its fragile liveliness and the album’s confident serenity as a whole, there is much to absorb and re-absorb. And all from a quartet of which only ECM could dream and make reality—proof of the label’s unflagging creative spirit in pursuit of jazz perfection.