In this week's paper I wrote about Saturday's excellent program for this year's iteration of the Chicago Jazz String Summit, a multifarious festival organized by cellist Tomeka Reid. That evening her trio Hear in Now celebrates the release of its fine new album, Not Living in Fear (International Anthem). But the festivities get under way tonight with a remarkable lineup of intimate solo and duo performances at Elastic by musicians who have rarely, in ever, played locally in such a context. Violinist Mark Feldman, violinist and violist Mary Oliver, and cellist Hank Roberts are all heavies in the world of improvised music—versatile and curious players who move fluidly among various approaches.
Opening the evening is a duo set by Roberts and terrific New York pianist Jacob Sacks. Roberts achieved a relatively high profile in avant-garde jazz circles in the 80s, thanks largely to his productive relationship with saxophonist Tim Berne, with whom he worked in the dense, richly malleable trio Miniature (with drummer Joey Baron) and many other contexts. Roberts has also been a trusted cohort of guitarist Bill Frisell for nearly three decades, and Frisell is a dominant force on the cellist's most recent studio album, Everything Is Alive (Winter & Winter); you can hear that album's opening track, "Crew Cut," below.
Over the elastic but insistently simmering pulse of electric bassist Jerome Harris and drummer Kenny Wollesen, Roberts plays in a richly melodic style that's characteristic of what he's done for most of his career. When I saw Roberts perform live with Berne last summer in New York, though, his playing was decidedly more abstract, rife with thrilling dissonance. I doubt Roberts has abandoned his old sound—"Crew Cut" was recorded in 2011, and represents the culmination of decades of development—but my gut tells me that for this Chicago set he'll take a more seat-of-the-pants approach.
Playing second is Amsterdam-based violinist and violist Mary Oliver, who's equally at home in the jazz and classical worlds. She's worked with phenomenal Israeli composer Chaya Czernowin, but she's probably most famous for her long membership in the wonderful ICP Orchestra, which has been one of the world's greatest jazz bands for the past four decades. She's made a handful of superb recordings on her own over the years, usually solo or with collaborators such as bassist Rozemarie Heggen (who briefly played in art-punk band the Ex) and Austrian cellist Johanna Varner. Below you can hear "Bedtime Story," the opening track from Oliver's excellent 2009 album with Varner, Jomo (Neos).
Oliver has titled tonight's rare solo performance "Into the Rabbit Hole," and it will be built around compositions by pianist and ICP cofounder Misha Mengelberg, John Coltrane, Herbie Nichols, and Gyorgy Ligeti as well as some of her original pieces, with improvisation connecting everything. In an e-mail she told me, "The title comes from the idea that rabbits have various ways that they leave their rabbit hole depending upon the conditions that they find are happening above ground. And this relates to my PhD dissertation, where I proposed a model where improvisers could analyze their improvisations through the conditions and decisions that they make: nonhierarchical, as in most classical ways of musical analysis."
Mark Feldman, a Chicago native who most recently performed here in a duo with his wife, pianist Sylvie Courvoisier, in December 2015, originally earned his keep as a session musician in Nashville, but since 1986 he's been establishing himself as one of the most skilled and original jazz violinists in New York. He's worked with many of the adventurous musicians in the orbit of John Zorn and played frequently in relatively jazz-oriented settings, including a band led by guitarist John Abercrombie. From the late 80s till the mid-90s he joined Roberts and bassist Mark Dresser in string trio Arcado, which devised its own strain of third-stream jazz, fusing classical timbres and compositional forms with improvisation. His fruitful partnership with Courvoisier has spurred him toward classical idioms and increased tonal precision, but he's never lost his love for jazz and spontaneous music. Among his most recent recordings is last year's Miller's Tale (Intakt), a series of group improvisations with Courvoisier, brilliant British saxophonist Evan Parker, and New York electronics artist Ikue Mori. Below you can hear the liquid "A View From the Bridge," where Feldman's clear, sure-footed lines make the group's magnificent rapport sound even more lucid. Tonight he performs in a first-time duo with Chicago percussionist Tim Daisy.