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Misha Alperin: Her First Dance

John Kelman By

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It's been six years since Ukrainian-born Misha Alperin released 2002's sublime Night (ECM), that was recorded in 1998, the same year the pianist recorded his lucent solo album, At Home (ECM, 2001). It was with Night that Alperin first collaborated with Anja Lechner, an increasingly active cellist on ECM, comfortably traversing the narrowing gap between classical and improvised music. Her First Dance continues the partnership, but broadens the palette with the return of hornist Arkady Shilkloper, who has been Alperin's longtime musical companion dating back to their duet release and ECM debut, 1990's Wave of Sorrow.

Alperin may record infrequently for ECM, but from the first notes of Her First Dance's opening track, "Vayan," the pianist's distinctive ability to mesh delicacy with drama and simplicity with virtuosic complexity, remains intact. Many artists aspire to musical narratives, but with his unmistakable stylistic blend—beginning in the classical sphere, interpreting 20th Century Russian composers, but also incorporating folkloric elements of his Moldavian background and later immersion in the jazz tradition—Alperin tells richer stories than most, often within surprisingly short timeframes. The suite-like approach to development of "Vayan" finds a crystalline melody gaining greater strength as it reemerges perioically throughout its six minutes.

With Her First Dance a series of solo, duo and trio pieces, there's plenty of opportunity to hear the strengths of all three players. Russian-born Shilkloper's expressive tone and similar musical background to Alperin proves that even the simplest, most sing-song structure is rife with possibility. On the flugelhorn/piano title track, Shilkloper adds depth to Alperin's nuanced form, demonstrating an affinity in surrendering to the needs of the music rather than making it fit a personal agenda. "A New Day," a duo for piano and cello, showcases Lechner's eloquence, creating with Alperin a dark-hued piece where beauty can be found in the subtlest of movements and the briefest resonance.

While Alperin doesn't quite possess the schizophrenic nature of composer Erik Satie (1866-1925), he's always demonstrated a curious duality, jumping from spacious lyricism one moment ("April in February") to playful expressionism the next ("Jump"). But when the trio finally converges halfway through Her First Dance on "Tiflis," with Shilkloper on French horn, there's a singularity of purpose that evokes a haunting melancholy.

Recorded in Lugano, Switzerland's Auditorio Radio Svizzera, where trumpeter Enrico Rava's intimate duet disc with pianist Stefano Bollani—The Third Man (ECM, 2008)—was also made, there's a warmth and profundity to the resulting soundscape that adds to Her First Dance's luminous clarity. Individual instruments remain discrete while still blending to create a greater whole.

How much room Alperin's compositions (all but one, Shilkloper's tranquil "The Russian Song," featuring the trio) provide for improvisation is often difficult to tell, but spontaneity can mean more than overt extemporization. Instead, the largely restrained beauty of Her First Dance is more about rarefaction and, while Alperin's not averse to occasional dissonance and bursts of energy, it's an album predominantly evocative of pensive introspection.

Track Listing: Vayan; Her First Dance; A New Day; April in February; Jump; Tiflis; Lonely in White; Frozen Tears; The Russian Song; Via Dolorosa.

Personnel: Misha Alperin: piano; Arkady Shilkloper: French horn, flugelhorn; Anja Lechner: violoncello.

Title: Her First Dance | Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: ECM Records


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