When we were planning drummer Ehran Elisha’s recording, The Kicker (CIMP 166), it was originally designed as a quartet date (Roy Campbell, David Bindman, Wilber Morris). At some point, Ehran said he wanted to add another voice, Sam Bardfeld (NYC, NY, 1968). I had never heard of Sam and was a bit apprehensive, especially as Ehran suggested to me that the violinist was pretty new to the improvising music scene. But Ehran felt he would be a very positive addition to his ensemble. I expected a novice whose function would probably be mostly as a colorist. And he did add color…and tension, and a strong improvising voice. In my producer notes for that concert, I wrote that Sam’s “violin work will immediately inform you that this is a name which deserves further notice.” Well, here is further notice.
Impressed as I was by Sam's playing, I was taken aback by the tapes of this group that he began sending me, in the summer of 1998, in that they approached improvised music from such an original position. Who knew? Here was a guy working with 3 more established musicians, all of whom had previously recorded as leader or co-leader [Drew Gress (Philadelphia, PA, 1959) on Soul Note and Enja; Ken Wessel (White Plains, NY, 1956) on Igmod; and Mike Sarin (Seattle, WA, 1965) on Tzadik], producing a kind of hybrid music of considerable strength and charm.
The day before the quartet came up to record, I realized I really knew nothing of Sam’s background and I asked him if he had something like a bio sheet. When he arrived he handed me a typed-out sheet, obviously done at my request, which included the following: Studied “most notably with Bill Barron and George Garzone,” who were also major influences along with “early Jean-Luc (Ponty), Zbiggy Seifert and Rob Thomas,” also Rollins, Trane, Wayne Shorter, Ornette, and he’s “a huge Stuff Smith fan.” He’s recorded or played with Bruce Springsteen, Johnny Pacheco, String Trio of New York, John Cale, Johnny Almendra and, of course, Ehran Elisha, among others. He plays a lot of Latin, Cajun and Zydeco gigs. And he “didn’t decide to play professionally until (he was) 26.” All of which may, in its own incomplete and brief way, explain the very original face of his music. And still, this is music with obvious ties to a wide tradition of music from the 18th century to the present, a truly inventive and progressive fusion. Also, aside from the compositional and improvisational joys, notice the structural strength: each instrument position has a critical role to the whole. Not technically easy music, I would guess, the members negotiate its intricacies with ease and precision. Drew and Mike seem to have a special rapport and, in the traditional rhythm role, they execute it with a particular vigor. Visually, they were a pleasure to watch interact. Ken seems to find a particular pleasure in Sam’s playing, filling in counterpoint to his lines and, in an instant, calling up his own clearly articulated improvisations and rounding out this full court press.
This group has been 4 years in the making and this debut sets a high standard. Enjoy the crystallization of those fermentive years. Here is imagination and talent unleashed.
Robert D. Rusch – 2/16/99