“Sam Bardfeld is a marvellously gifted violinist, composer and arranger” - K. Leander Williams, TimeOutNY
“Bardfeld has a loose bow and a mercurial mind. Lots of air and light in this wonderful band - Four Stars” - Paul de
“All music tells stories” muses violinist and bandleader Sam Bardfeld, “jazz especially has always been about the idea of a story within a story. You start with a composition and then the solo is someone’s personal spin on the original yarn.” Bardfeld is talking about stories for a reason. His new CD, Periodic Trespasses [The Saul Cycle] on the FreshSound/NewTalent label is a modern jazz record with seven brief spoken interludes (with underscoring by post-production guru Danny Blume/Good & Evil) that tell the story of a fictional protagonist named Saul. “I was sitting on a batch of tunes, literally sitting on the beach thinking about what each was about and what connected them and the character of Saul kind of invented himself.”
As the violinist in the Jazz Passengers and the new Roy Nathanson quintet, Bardfeld is no stranger to the idea that jazz can be simultaneously whimsical and conceptual. His varied sideman life also includes current work with Bruce Springsteen (with the Boss' "Pete Seeger Project" jazz pianist D.D. Jackson and the Cuban/klezmer/downtown Septeto Roberto Rodriguez. Past gigs include work with John Zorn, Ray Anderson, Mark Ribot, James Spaulding, Anthony Braxton, John Cale, Mark Dresser, Johnny Pacheco, Jeff "Tain" Watts, Steve Bernstein, Nancy Sinatra, The String Trio of NY, Drew Gress, Butch Morris, Philip
So what is the relationship between Sam Bardfeld and Saul? I know Sam, and Saul isn’t Sam any more than “Philip Roth” in the novel Operation Shylock was the same person as his author, Philip Roth. It’s just that the resemblances aren’t unintentional. Saul wouldn’t be out of place in a Philip Roth book, or for that matter in one of Ben Katchor’s graphic novels with their gray-suited workaday miracles. “Graphic novel is a great analogy” says Bardfeld. “I wanted just enough words to give listeners a narrative context - let them respond to the music itself with their own pictures and feelings.
Bardfeld’s debut as a leader and composer was Taxidermy (CIMP), which got four stars from Downbeat and
made the top-ten lists at CODA and Cadence magazines in 2000. The raw materials of Periodic Trespasses come from
the same vein. There’s an angular melodicism reminiscent of Eric Dolphy, and a delicacy of texture and spacing in the
arrangements here with trumpet, vibes, rhythm section, and his inimitable violin. “I was definitely influenced by
mid-1960’s Dolphy and Andrew Hill on this record, a period when things were just teetering on the edge between structure and freedom.” There’s also the Afro-Cuban rhythms Bardfeld has honed in New York’s Latin scene. (He wrote the book on Latin violin, literally: it’s called Latin Violin.) There’s a playful humor in the tunes that Sam’s work with Roy Nathanson has encouraged. But it was also there in the surrealistic ska tunes Sam played back in the day, when he was the coolest nerd in high school.
Bardfeld’s bandmates on Periodic Trespasses: trumpeter Ron Horton (Andrew Hill/Lee Konitz), vibraphonist Tom Beckham (Gunther Schuller/Cocktail Angst), bassist Sean Conly (Stephon Harris/Ray Barretto) and drummer Satoshi
Takeishi (Eliane Elias/Dave Douglas) all make creative contributions. “I love the balance in this group, each musician can be heard playing his own elaboration of Saul’s conundrum’s.” Bardfeld with his thoughtful development of haunting motifs and Horton with off-the-cuff bursts of eccentric poetry function as perfect foils. Call them Saul’s super-ego and id.
For a modern jazz record, Periodic Trespasses is easy on the ears. The long melodies, clear themes, ebullient
rhythms, and to-the-point solos ought to reach an audience beyond jazz zeolots. Periodic Trespasses is Saul’s story.
When he gets all in his head, his thoughts spin out arias of lyrical complexity and rough anguish. It’s a coming-of-age piece about an ambivalent shlemiel striving for love and greatness. There’s a dark night of the soul, a road less traveled, love found and lost, a vision in a dream, foibles and triumphs. But the tunes themselves speak with an emotional directness even when they’re all twisty turny modernist.
And they swing for real.