Sylvie Courvoisier, Mark Feldman, Ned Rothenberg-In Cahoots: Album Review

In Cahoots features three mainstays of the free jazz community doing what they do best.  Pianist Sylvie Courvoisier and Violinist Mark Feldman combined forces on one of my favorite projects from last year—Miller’s Tale which also included Ikue Mori and Evan Parker—and although this album involves less exploration of extended technique and uncharted aesthetic space, their musicality combines nicely with Ned Rothenberg for a biting artistic journey.

Much of the project feels anticipatory for something huge.  Opening track “Light and Variations” plays with anxiety ridden aesthetics as quiet, combative melodies are pitted against each other throughout, implying an incoming explosion.  This sort of sets the tone for the first half of the record.  Admittedly the lack of drums somewhat limits the group in terms of fire power, so the explosive material comes in the forms of tiny blips on the radar.  Take the track “Inter-State,” for example; here, each player kind of dives right in with rather out of control melodic material from Feldman and Rothenberg, complimented by pounding piano work from Courvoisier, but the track is only six minutes in length and the explosive material still finds quite a bit of time to cool down towards the end.  For an album that’s been building for 6 lengthy tracks the climax seems relatively short lived, yet the group somehow uses this to their advantage.  Time tends to move fast when you’re expecting something and by only satisfying the tension on occasion, the group really puts their work on the edge.

The group seems to be altogether unaffected by the lack of drums rhythmically.  Much of the project features all three of the players hanging in a contrapunctal state with pecked piano notes, plucked strings and spiraling clarinet—see the beginning of the title track.  Othertimes, one player will obsessively repeat a simple melodic figure and slowly spin out of control, while others sit in a more pitch-driven space. Rothenberg showcases this on the track “Epic Proportions,” first crafting a metric groove, before abandoning any real sense of meter and tapping into a more emotionally driven sound.  To contrast, Feldman can offer longing violin melodies, or Rothenberg can make a track really breathe with his Shakuhachi flute playing.  The album represents a mastery of internal time-keeping.

The space on the project doesn’t necessarily have a hierarchy and every musician sort of plays every ensemble role at one point or another, but there are certain habits at hand.  One in particular is the parts of the project where Courvoisier plays an emotionally affectual role to change the context of Feldman and Rothenberg’s melodic trading.  Referring again to the title track, when Courvoisier leaves the room for a couple minutes, Feldman and Rothenberg take a step forward as the main focus area, but then Courvosier seemingly taps one key and changes the track completely.  This really helps the ensemble achieve contrast in a cohesive way by leading the group down a different path without losing track of the starting point.

Aesthetically, this is an album that comes out every day in the jazz community, so it’s hard to say if this specific project is ever going to get name dropped after this year, but the musicians do more than just throw it on auto-pilot.  The project flies bye as a product of the tension the musicians maintain.  Rothenberg and Feldman constantly interact in intriguing ways, while Courvoisier selects new moods for them to jump into and rhythm—although not rationed to any one musician—constantly pushes the momentum forward.  In Cahoots is certainly a work worth listening to.

-Donovan Burtan


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