Sam Bardfeld Trio

July 4, 2023

Brooklyn Jazz Underground Records BJUR 073

John Pope and John Garner
Water Music
New Jazz and Improvised Music NEWAMiM14

Extensions to the Jazz violin canon, one UK and one US band bring individual takes on free form fiddling with a mixture of mostly originals – New York’s Sam Bardfeld – or unhackneyed free music compositions – Newcastle’s John Garner – to equally impressive ends. Neither do so alone. Bardfeld, who has worked with everyone from Steven Bernstein to Bruce Springsteen, is accompanied by fellow young veteran, pianist Jacob Sacks and drummer Michael Sarin. Garner, who divides his career among improv, notated and session work, is partnered with bassist John Pope, who is involved in many advanced Jazz projects in England’s North.

Bardfeld’s multi-pitched high string explorations are two-pronged. His spiccato and squeaky technique process is in the intense tradition that stretches from Stuff Smith to Billy Bang. Yet at the same time his innate sense of swing and ability to rarely put a note out of place preserves the session’s horizontal flow. Interestingly enough the trio’s version of Springsteen’s “Atlantic City” expressed the same tonal/atonal mix as the Andrew Hill composed title tune. A simple melody “Atlantic City” is stretched to its tonal limits with keyboard pumps, tough ringing drums and torqued string plinks from Bardfeld. Harmonized drum backbeat and speedy piano textures make “Refuge” sound as ragtime as radical. Though it becomes more exploratory when clenched staccato string glissandi mix with Sacks’ repeated exuberant chording. Especially in the pianist’s note placement and comping there’s a Monkish strategy to some of the originals. Bardfeld expresses his originality and lineage most clearly on “On the Seat of Which” and “That Greeny Flower”. Beginning with a discordant string screech, the first moves at andante as the exposition widens through col legno slaps and piano key clips. Moving between formalized sweetness and stretched bent tones the violinist propels the theme with a mixture of cadence and concern. “That Greeny Flower” comes complete with measured piano swing as Bardfeld evolves from mandolin-like arco plinks to baroque interludes and finally relaxes into undulating but straightforward lines.

The situation is different on Water Music since Pope and Garner choose to interpret a potpourri of Free Jazz Greatest Hits composed by everyone from Albert Ayler to Misha Mengelberg. An interactive duo in its fullest sense, Pope’s contributions are as crucial as Garner’s. For instance on the Ayler/Mary Parks composed title tune it’s the low-pitched swelling arco bass line which pushes the exposition forward, auguring the dramatic elaboration when the violin enters with pressurized double and triple stroking. Treating the narrative as a pseudo-Eastern European dance tune, the resolution encompasses broken note fiddling and a supple string-pulling double bass bottom. The two are able to resolve the implied formalism of Anthony Braxton’s “Composition 40-F” by adding supple swing. As the narrative jumps up and undulates down the scale, juddering fiddle patterns and hard bass thumps advance to prestissimo before squealing to a tandem finale.

Unsurprisingly Pope’s walking is emphasized on Jimmy Garrison’s “Ascendant”, with Garner’s needle-thin squeaks not detracting from the bassist’s creation of a paced groove that keeps returning to the head. Meanwhile Mengelberg’s “Hypoxmastreefuzz” is given a brief treatment as a prestissimo free-for-all with Pope gamely plucking the theme as the violinist moves so steadily up the scale so that by the conclusion it sounds as if he’s whistling. Meanwhile Ornette Coleman’s “Congeniality” rates a respectful stop-time reading with harmonized strings until the tempo is doubled with both in full flight, but still allowing recurring glimpses of the melody.

Still it’s the extended variant on Alice Coltrane’s “Galaxy In Satchidananda” which provides the duo’s best showcase. Beginning with mandolin-like picking, the two emphasize the composition’s spiritual and swing elements. As each trades places for arco plucks, the other accompanies with shakes and pops from finger cymbals and other small percussion. The realized climax comes as more cymbal chiming backs up a blend of rich double bass motion and space erhu-like slices from the violin. As different as the Us and the UK are, equally valid violin expression is featured on each of these discs.

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Refuge: 1. It Might Not Work 2. Atlantic City 3. A Ribbon of Sooty Thought 4. On the Seat of Which 5. That Greeny Flower 6, Kick Me 7. Refuge

Personnel: Refuge: Sam Bardfeld (violin); Jacob Sacks (piano) and Michael Sarin (drums and melodica)

Track Listing: Water: 1. Newswatch 2. Congeniality 3. Hypoxmastreefuzz 4. Water Music 5. Mopti 6. Composition 40-F 7. Egyptian 8. Galaxy In Satchidananda 9. Ascendant

Personnel: Water: John Garner (violin and percussion) and John Pope (bass and percussion)