Violinist and composer Sam Bardfeld is fearlessly unique and expressive. He is the product of an NYC upbringing in the 70s and early 80s, which was, he says, "both a dysfunctional and fantastic place to grow up, specific in time and place but also typical of the violence and regeneration inherent to America and some of the strange beauty it produces. Music was everywhere for a curious kid (Central Park rumba circles, 3 A.M. recording at CBGBs, Don Cherry at Soundscape when the cops raided, Zorn squealing mouthpieces at the Kitchen, high as a kite for Ravi Shankar at Carnegie Hall.) The decrepit splendor left an inescapable imprint on my young self."
Bardfeld has been influenced by many high-profile musical associations and experiences, including being a member of The Jazz Passengers and a frequent collaborator of Bruce Springsteen (a veteran of three recordings and two tours). Bardfeld's playing is featured in Roy Nathanson's Sotto Voce and Joel Harrison's String Choir, and he has toured or recorded with jazz groups like Michael Attias' Sextet, Butler/Bernstein and the Hot 9, Steven Bernstein's MTO, Anthony Braxton's Trillium Orchestra, Vince Giordano and The Nighthawks, the String Trio of NY, and Royal Hartigan's Blood Drum Spirit. Outside the jazz world he has toured or recorded with Calexico, John Cale, Debbie Harry, The Red Clay Ramblers, and Johnny Pacheco, etc. He has also worked with Elvis Costello, John Zorn, Kris Davis, Willie Colon and Hank Roberts among many others. Bardfeld is also the author of the book Latin Violin (Hal Leonard, 2002) on the Afro-Cuban violin tradition.
Bardfeld's previous recordings, Taxidermy (CIMP, 1999) and Periodic Trespasses (FreshSounds, 2006) have both earned acclaim, including a four-star rating in DownBeat Magazine, raves in JazzTimes, Jazziz and four stars in All Music Guide for both recordings. Bardfeld has taken his groups to festivals and clubs throughout Europe including Banlieues Bleues Jazz Festival (Paris), Sud-Tirol Jazz Festival (Italy) and Porgy and Bess (Vienna). After a long hiatus of twelve years since his last release, Bardfeld and Brooklyn Jazz Underground Records proudly announce the release of his new recording, The Great Enthusiasms (BJUR 064), featuring pianist Kris Davis and drummer Michael Sarin. Available September 29, 2017.
The trio's music falls somewhere in the overlapping vectors of inside ('harmony-based'),outside ('free') and downtown jazz. Bardfeld has created his own jazz violin language that lies in between the straight-ahead violinists and the free-jazzers. The Penguin Guide To Jazz (5th ed.) states, "Bardfeld has devised a language which takes in classical models, jazz harmony and pure sound". His playing swings hard and integrates abstraction and expressiveness. One can hear references to a wide range of musicians that stretch from Stuff Smith, Lee Konitz, and Eric Dolphy, to 'post-jazz' contemporaries like Mary Halvorson. Kris Davis is a perfect foil and it's a little bit of a revelation to hear her brilliance and creativity in all the varied contexts Bardfeld creates. Michael Sarin (Dave Douglas, Thomas Chapin, etc) brings his tremendous gifts for orchestration, musical wit, sympathetic dialogue and overall intelligence. The unusual instrumentation, with no bass, creates extra harmonic and textural space and adds intimacy to Bardfeld's unique compositions.
Much of Bardfeld's favorite American music is eccentric and forward while grounded in the vernacular. "Maybe it's not a total accident that my three most important employer-mentors are all great musician-poets of weird America and all with significant local roots: Bruce Springsteen, Roy Nathanson (Jazz Passengers), and Anthony Braxton. Bruce is (among other things) a poet of the noir side of the city - the ne'er-do-wells and hookers and guys looking for a piece of the action. Roy's stories, musical and literate, are infused both by Dolphy and a New York urbanity that is universal in its eccentricity and vulnerability. The time I spent performing and recording (soloing on an 'avant hoedown') in Braxton's 'Trillium J' Opera was also a profound education in the lengths to which a complex, idiosyncratic personal language can be developed and yet represent a uniquely American story," explains Bardfeld in the album's liner notes.
More on the music on The Great Enthusiasms: The song titles of Bardfeld's compositions are all derived from Richard Nixon quotes -- principally from his resignation speech, in which Nixon quotes Teddy Roosevelt. "Fails While Daring Greatly" is a bluesy chamber-jazz piece from outer space. Bardfeld's solo is a whimsical post-bop jaunt and Davis' a muscular free jazz statement. Sarin adds his characteristic humor, sympathy and coloristic genius to the whole endeavor. "Resignation Rag" combines a modified second-line groove with a futuristic violin melody that, with its swoops, pops and wide intervals, evokes Stuff Smith and Dolphy. Bardfeld's and Davis' interplay sounds telekinetic. Davis' solo statement and duet with Sarin evoke a freewheeling Monk. "Winner Image" starts out with a slow building and virtuosic violin solo by Bardfeld weaving in and out of harmony. Davis creeps in with an off-kilter ostinato leading to a head with Tim Berne-like tension. The rendition of the classic Springsteen/Patti Smith tune, "Because the Night," skews the intervals of the original piano vamp, making it a weirder sort of night. The cohesion of the verse turns into a free chant-like chorus summoning nocturnal passions. "The Great Enthusiasms" is an Andrew Hill-like post-bop swing tune with a touch of folksiness. Davis' solo brings out the bi-tonality of the writing while Bardfeld moves from harmony into a short free duet with the pianist. The Band's "King Harvest (Has Surely Come)," is a playful re-imagining, with Davis covering the proto-synth bass part in her lowest range and splotchy chords in her highest. Bardfeld solos mightily over the verse changes and Davis ends the song with an eloquent solo statement that re-connects with the song's subject matter, the hardships of a depression-era sharecropper. "The 37th Time I Have Spoken" starts with Bardfeld strumming ethereal chords on the violin as Davis and Sarin engage in quiet dialogue. A mix of meditation and mayhem ensues and the piece closes as it started with ethereal dialogue and strumming.
The Great Enthusiasms is Bardfeld's 'weird America' record. A reflection on American music in all of its glorious eccentricities, and simultaneously an affirmation that artists must rise up and create and perform, especially in the face of abject political dissoluteness in the Trump era. Bardfeld elaborated, "Nixon's resignation speech was my first memory of being part of a collective political body...Though Dick was a paranoid, hateful crook, there's intelligence and complexity in him that one cannot imagine existing inside our current president. During this current dark stain in our country's history, let's continue to make weird, joyous art."