Globe Unity: Russia
Anthony Braxton / Maral Yakshieva
Vyacheslav Guyvoronsky/Andrei Kondakov/ Vladimir Volkov
Russia may be better known these days for its quasi-authoritarian government than its creative music scene. Both realms exist though, most likely to the mutual disavowal of the other.
Of the many things Anthony Braxton has done in his 40-year career, you'd think there would be more duets with pianists. While most of his partners are unsurprisingMuhal Richard Abrams to Marilyn Crispellothers inhabit an aesthetic closer to contemporary classical. Adding to the latter group is Improvisations (Duo) 2008, a pairing with Turkman Maral Yakshieva (Turkmenistan once a part of the USSR). While Braxton sports his usual array of horns, he is more muted alongside Yakshieva's delicacy. The two discs, single pieces 51 and 57 minutes long respectively, are reflective rather than refractive, eliciting melodic strains and dulcet tones, making the occasional descent into more strident fare that much more shocking.
Alex Rostotsky is a bassist born in Tver (just north of Moscow) whose previous work has fused jazz and classical musics. While "Pictures at an Exhibition" is commonly interpreted fare, his take on Russian composer Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky isn't straightforward. Rostotsky chooses several movements from the suite, interspersed with the opening "Promenade" theme, to be interpreted by his fretless electric bass, piano and drums. The sections float between serenity and aggression, swing and avant garde with the closing "The Hut on the Fowl's Legs" the most interesting. The album could have ended there at a compelling 50 minutes but unnecessarily goes on with a 16-minute piece written in homage to Mussorgsky featuring the Russian State Symphony Orchestra.
The most riveting entry comes from the trio of Vyacheslav Guyvoronsky (trumpet), Andrei Kondakov (piano) and Vladimir Volkov (bass), whose last album Christmas Concert (Leo, 2008) was a fine example of prototypical European avant garde. In Search of a Standard is not quite what the title implies. The trio's aim was "to compose pieces with references to jazz standards." The results, with titles like "Don't Take the B Train," "Caravansarai" and "Unsophisticated Lady," are like dreams where familiar images float by half in focus before devolving into sweat-inducing nightmares. The group successfully balances some measure of respect for authority and tradition with a subtle, subversive humor, as much a description of the Russian people as any.
Tracks and Personnel
Improvisations (Duo) 2008
Tracks: Improvisation 1; Improvisation 2.
Personnel: Anthony Braxton: saxes; Maral Yakshieva: piano.
Pictures at an Exhibition or Promenade with Mussorgsky
Tracks: Promenade; Gnome; The Old Castle; Promenade; The Tuilleries Gardens; Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks; Rich Jew, Poor Jew; Promenade; The Hut on the Fowl's Legs; Waltzing with Hartmann.
Personnel: Alex Rostotsky: electric bass; Yakov Okun: piano; Alexander Mashin: drums; Russian State Symphony Orchestra (#11)
In Search of a Standard
Tracks: Don't Take The "B" Train; Mile's Exercises; On The Other Side Of The Street; Wintertime; Caravansarai; Unsophisticated Lady; Standard; Someday.
Personnel: Vyacheslav Guyvoronsky: trumpet; Andrei Kondakov: piano, percussion; Vladimir Volkov: bass.