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Mark Helias: Fictionary

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Taken from a pair of music festival recordings produced by NPS Radio, Netherlands, this album presents Helias’ well-rounded avant garde quartet. The bassist’s compositions and the group’s performances convey a balance between structure and freedom, thoughtful design and flat-out blowing. The music often swings, but within this feeling is a sense of metric elasticity. If the soloist or the front line (tenor saxophonist Ellery Eskelin, violinist Mark Feldman) puts a little squiggle (or a permanent deformation) in the time, Helias and drummer Mike Sarin or Tom Rainey can either go with the flow or hold the center. In either case, the music never descends to a tug-of-war or chaotic stage.

Feldman is a scrappy violinist, one who exhibits much linear logic and tonal imagery. Eskelin is a blustery, hopping avant gardist with a fine sense of solo construction. The blend of violin and tenor is very effective in this music. Helias espouses the old-time virtue of holding the group together by compositional form, rhythm patterns, and dynamics. He also pushes the group in creative directions it might not otherwise have taken. The drummers dovetail expertly with his approach. Contrasted with groups with a relentless freak-out approach, this quartet hits you with creative discipline within its expressive freedom.