The Ganelin Trio reunion is cause for celebration. Coming from the USSR—a country that attempted to ban the saxophone after World War II—the group caused quite a stir back in the early ‘80s. Some may remember the cloak-and-dagger tales: the master tapes for their first commercially-issued recordings available outside the USSR were literally smuggled out of the Eastern Bloc, arriving in anonymous packages at the door of Leo Feigin, the operator of Leo Records.
Whatever the smugglers endured, it was worth the effort. The Ganelin Trio were a hugely entertaining and strikingly innovative band whose highly unlikely (for the time) integration of 20th Century classical music, Lithuanian folk themes, modern jazz, and free improvisation was delivered with the sort of audience-baiting panache that has become stock-in-trade for the likes of Willem Breuker, the ICP Orchestra, and Pino Minafra. The fact that the trio came, somehow, from within the state-approved Soviet musical establishment and yet clearly had a firm grasp of every significant musical development in Western jazz over the last 50-odd years struck many as miraculous.
The Trio’s vigorously eclectic, polystylistic music just resisted categorization. Listening today, it seems a pity that they preceded the whole Downtown Judeo-Balkan jazz phenomenon. They would have almost fit in. Sort of.
So... now they are back. The length of the concert, and the CD, is a rather paltry 38 minutes. Feigin explains this in his chatty, informal liner notes. For the record, the Ganelin Trio does not play free jazz, though they use group improvisation as one of a vast array of musical processes which may take place within the framework of their lengthy, polystylistic suites. Things start off with a bang: Ganelin’s synthesizer sputtering like a malfunctioning CD player, Tarasov massaging his drums and cymbals, and Chekasin eliciting otherworldly wailings from two saxophones played simultaneously. Ganelin’s fleet, articulate piano bubbles up from the din, followed by Chekasin’s characteristically raw sax, over Tarasov’s nimbly pulsing drums. The music constantly takes fascinating twists and turns, and the ensemble sound changes to meet the demands of the moment.
Those with a distaste for electronics should consider themselves warned—the Ganelin Trio definitely enjoy the capabilities offered by digital synthesis and live sampling. Ganelin often uses the synth as a keyboard bass, accompanying himself as he solos on piano.
The most striking thing about this performance is the incredibly high level of communication between Ganelin and Tarasov—after a 15 year layoff, they still seem to function as a single unit. Chekasin cannot help but seem a bit of an outsider at times. Though the duration is very short, the Ganelin Trio’s 15 Year Reunion is all meat – there’s simply no noodling, no fooling around, no grandstanding wankage. This prosaically titled disc offers the curious, open-minded listener a solid 38 minutes worth of musical goodies, and it leaves you wanting more.
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This review first appeared in All About Jazz: Los Angeles .
Personnel: Vyacheslav Ganelin- piano, synth; Vladimir Tarasovdrums,
percussion; Vladimir Chekasin- alto and tenor saxophones,
bass clarinet, voice