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Vlad West: In My Corner

Budd Kopman By

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Everyone evolves as life proceeds, and musicians are no exception. However, In My Corner, recorded in 2011, almost twenty years after Say Hello To Russia, is so different from the latter as to give one pause.

Vlad West is back on the keyboard, which was his first instrument, and it sounds electronic, but those are not the main differences. Besides piano, West also plays what sounds like electronic drums and bass, but that is also not the main difference. What jumps out is the almost complete lack of that lithe and bouncing swing; the bass and drums (when they are played) thud harshly with a beat reminiscent of rock.

What to make of this? Why has West done this?

The first thing to understand is that any artistic creation must be approached for what it is —what its creator meant it to be, and not what the art "consumer" might expect or want it to be.

Repeated, and closer listening, however, reveals a lot of music, some of it quite deep harmonically, in what is played on the keyboard. These sophisticated sounds are played in a technically rough manner (think a mix of Thelonious Monk and a slower Bud Powell) where touch is not paramount; this could be a side-effect of the (possibly) electronic keyboard. This is then surrounded by the dull, harsh, but intense sounds of the "rhythm section."

Now, this music is most definitely not fusion, but rather, it seems, as an attempt to express a revolt (if you will) against what West feels jazz has become.

There has always been a tension between jazz-as- entertainment and jazz-as-art-music as epitomized by such disparate creators as Duke Ellington and Artie Shaw or the be-bop revolt against Swing (simplistically put). However, West would not be wrong in thinking that much of today's jazz can be quite cerebral, and listening to jazz is often a solitary act, even in a club at a table for two.

However, it is easy to imagine putting In My Corner on at a party (on the loud side) where most of the guests are not died-in-the-wool jazzophiles and getting a bunch of "What's THAT!?" reactions, with many getting into its groove, and hence, unknowingly being exposed to "jazz." Quite sly...

Different tracks have different moods and emphases (including things like an Irish quote in "Loch Nest," and what sounds like strings in "Graduation"), but West seems to let his guard down with "My Yiddishe Momme," one of the longest tracks in the center of the album.

Not overtly Jewish or Yiddish, and played solo, with many different moods, all deeply felt. It is a rumination on life, love and music, and stands out in sharp contrast to the preceding "Never Too Late For Roses," which almost swings, but especially "Chrenomall" which follows and one of the "heaviest" and most dissonant tracks.

In My Corner deserves a listen by those who are willing to let the music come to them.
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