Sam Bardfeld: Periodic Trespasses [The Saul Cycle]

Alt-Jazz violinist weighs in with a daring, fun session of melodic quirk.

Sam Bardfeld

Periodic Trespasses [The Saul Cycle]

Label: New Talent
US Release Date: 2005-11-22
UK Release Date: Available as import
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You don't hear much violin in modern jazz, and why the heck is that? The violin cuts over the rhythm section, it swoops and bends notes, it has a rich place in the American tradition, and it can be profoundly vocalized -- producing effects as gritty and astonishing as any trumpet or reed instrument. But somewhere along the line, violin was marginalized. Ellington featured it off and on, but it was mostly drowned out of the big band sound, and the only significant bop violinist was Stephane Grappelli, whose quicksilver (but somewhat schmaltzy) fiddle was Django's foil in the Quinetette of the Hot Club of France.

Since modern jazz solidified in the 1960s, the violin has been either an occasional mark of the avant-garde (Billy Bang, Leroy Jenkins) or an electrified fusion wand (Jean Luc Ponty's work with Frank Zappa). But maybe things are finally starting to turn around.

Regina Carter has made a splash in recent years playing violin all over the jazz spectrum, even on a major label. And the downtown scene, bursting with klezmer-jazz crossover and classical-jazz hybrids, has fostered a sense that "jazz violin" need not sound self-consciously rustic to be bold. Most recently, Jenny Scheinman's album 12 Songs set her improvising fiddle lines in the context of modern jazz and Americana with perfect sense and sure-footed understanding.

This recent release by Sam Bardfeld is a worthy next step -- a quintet recording for violin, trumpet, vibes, bass, and drums that sidesteps questions of "out" or "in" by telling a series of musical stories in a direct, pleasing way. But still -- as the product of the downtown scene, a New York Jewish upbringing, Wesleyan University, and bands as diverse as the Jazz Passengers, Bruce Springsteen's "Pete Seeger Project", and D.D. Jackson's group -- Mr. Bardfeld can hardly help packaging Periodic Trespasses as something more complex and self-conscious.

And so it is that this record is Periodic Trespasses [The Saul Cycle], a set of post-modern jazz tunes contained in a narration about the life of a man trying to decide between a career in dentistry or a pursuit of greatness on the Renaissance crumhorn. Seriously. (Or, more likely, not seriously.) The narration consists of seven "chapters" undergirded with music. Stuff like this: "While practicing for a crumhorn recital, Saul sees a scrap of paper floating in through his window. The paper has eight capital letters on it: IMMATRID. Only later that night does Saul realize their meaning." How amusing or distracting you find this kind of thing is probably a matter of persona taste. But it does help to frame the music as a series of moody episodes, the kind of thing that is telling a story, even if the story is off-the-wall. On tunes like "I.M.M.A.T.R.I.D.", an initial bass line is Dolphy-ish, with skittering drums and held harmonies for the violin and trumpet, but there is considerable musical narration to come. Two minutes in, the tune shifts to Afro-Cuban groove and piquant minor melody, only to resolve into a walking swing-time bridge. If Saul's story truly is your concern, the music is more than willing to give you something to imagine, particularly as Mr. Bardfeld's violin or Ron Horton's trumpet deftly carves phrases from the rhythm.

Most of the music here is in a sharply rhythmic vein -- smart modern jazz that deals in both consonant and dissonant harmonies but always provides a sense of propulsion. Toe-tappers will be challenged but not stymied as the players use clean technique to play neatly with relative freedom. Some tunes have a Blue Note kind of appeal ("Beal"), while others suggest the angular ethnicity of John Zorn's Masada ("I Was Basking In It"). They almost all move across more than one feel, setting the soloists against different beats or riff patterns.

But perhaps I'll be forgiven for liking one of the simplest tunes the most. "Portrait of Jessica" starts with a fiddle-tune pattern as background, then unravels as a ballad for violin and trumpet, in series and in harmony. The players seem, on this gentle tune, to be searching for Saul -- or for his crumhorn, or maybe just for the right tender notes to bring the music home to the listeners. As vibraphonist Tom Beckham plays a short solo, Mr. Bardfeld and Mr. Horton lay the melody back in gently, and the real purpose of the story is clear: to win our hearts with melancholy.

Toward the end of the album, we learn that Saul has developed a "nocturnal doppelganger, Paul" who is both frightening and unsettling. Saul, however, gets used to his "periodic trespasses." The doppelganger's dream is the subject of the album's last tune -- a flowing swinger that lets the whole band play with a combination of Shearing style and Dolphy wit. There are stop-time sections, free-time interludes, straight swing and even military rat-a-tats. So much interest and facility -- and this is only a dream! And that of a mere ghostly double at that!

Sam Bardfeld has enough music in him to tell quite a few stories, that's plain. If popping modern jazz with a downtown wink makes it for you then, by all means, get yourself a crumhorn and join the party.


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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