Released on the St. Petersburg-based Rainy Days label, Arseny Ryklov's Forgotten Melody is categorized, by the pianist himself, as "contemporary jazz." While undoubtedly true, this is an interesting classification, given his background. "There are two styles that made the biggest impact on me," Ryklov states, "ECM and classical music, particularly impressionists and Russian composers." While this trio album does contain a few moments clearly inspired by dreamy impressionism, particularly during its second half, the overt classical influences heard here are more sporadic than on Asieny, his duo side-project with Polish vocalist Joanna Solarewicz.
From a compositional standpoint, the songs he has written offer a mild complexity, hovering precisely in that territory which allows the music to be enjoyed equally with either active or passive engagement. It's too bad then, that the harmonic textures presented here fail to realize a requisite level of inventiveness.
For instance, rather than accentuating a rapid increase in Ryklov's rhythmic tension or falling back to support his melody, Vitaliy Epov's drums work half for and half against the majority of these nine compositions. Even during a piece which is set to a more leisurely tempo such as "Faraway Beauty," he seems restless and restrained, like a rodeo bronc held waiting in the chute too long. When finally the gate opens, his efforts sound as if he is making up for lost time, running counter to those of the other two-thirds of this trio. No drummer should face criticism for an energetic temperament; some of jazz's most renowned icons shared that trait, most notably Billy Higgins and Elvin Jones. Yet the strength of those musicians was that they understood how to adapt to the band leader and the compositions, cooling off during an album's more languid moments and presenting a gentler side to their personalities. It's a shame, really, since his use of a startling 'flash of lightning' cymbal effect (the most similar sound which comes to mind to describe this is that of a flare being ignited) following brief silences at the start of the album-opening "Doubts" or most of the way through the title track are a modern and daring way of capturing the attention of an audience.
From a compositional standpoint "Forgotten Melody" certainly earns its place as the album's intriguing namesake, with Ryklov beginning things by establishing the catchy melody alone for more than a minute, before Epov and bassist Nikolai Olshanski are guided in to build upon what pianist Ryklov has started. When the time arrives for Epov to take the stage front, undercut by dawdling piano and bass somewhere far behind him, there again seems to be something inherently combative about his relationship to the piece.
To be fair, the unevenness of this effort shouldn't fall entirely on Epov's shoulders. The sudden drop at the finish of "Outline" does not possess the drama which was surely intended. Instead, the effect is jarring, leaving the listener to enter "Musical Box," the album's final song, with a sense of annoyance. Olshaski's gentle plucking brings a great deal of sensitivity to Ryklov's sharp, emotive playing during this lovely and decidedly Russian piece. "Musical Box" works well as a way of tying together all of the pianist's ideas in a brief burst of passionate and tender beauty, a beauty which unfortunately arrives too late in Forgotten Melody's runtime.
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