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Sergey Kuryokhin: The Ways of Freedom

AAJ Staff By

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In the darkest hour of the Cold War, pianist Sergey Kuryokhin sought every opportunity to uncover the contraband ideas of Western music and incorporate them into his own playing. His day job consisted of playing piano accompaniment twice weekly for a girls' gymnastic class. The rest of the time, Kuryokhin worked at the piano to define a very personal and idiosyncratic style of improvisation. His first record, smuggled out of the Soviet Union in 1981, saw its original release on Leo Records. This CD reissue brings The Ways of Freedom to the digital format, with three additional tracks not found on the original. The self-contained tunes on this record reflect a conscious attempt on Kuryokhin's part to encapsulate musical ideas rather than connect them in his usual stream-of-consciousness fashion. Predictably, the sound quality on The Ways of Freedom is not great, but that's a small price to pay for unusually powerful music.

Kuryokhin's style owes as much debt to Bartok and Stravinsky as it does to Monk and Taylor. On The Ways of Freedom, the pianist obsesses with tone and counterpoint. Improvised bass lines snake and curl their way around staccato chords, erupting into rapid-fire explosions of clustered energy. Kuryokhin spends quite a bit of time with "extended techniques": playing inside the piano, utilizing the instrument for raw percussion, and exploring unusual textures and tonalities. During moments of quiet, he plays the piano like a gong, allowing sound waves to wash all over the instrument—and then, in a twist of ironic energy, he'll tear off into another direction. Most of the record, outside these brief periods of reflection, tends toward a staccato, rippling sound.

What's most exciting about The Ways of Freedom is Kuryokhin's very spontaneous development of opposing themes. One hand might arpeggiate dissonant chords while the other leaps into a singing melody... and then, gradually, the two paths merge into a pulsing, charged entity. The level of intellectual detail here strongly suggests the inner architecture of Monk and especially Taylor, but Kuryokhin makes much more deliberate use of space, and he almost never engages in swinging rhythm. His harmonic progressions resemble classical music more than they do jazz. Very few pianists have such a distinctive style—perhaps all that time spent behind the Iron Curtain did some good after all...


Track Listing: Theory and Practice; The Wall; The Rules of the Game; Archipelago; No Exit; The Inner Fear; The Other Way; The Great Escape; Fresh Air; New Dawn.

Personnel: Sergey Kuryokhin: solo piano.

Title: The Ways of Freedom | Year Released: 2001 | Record Label: Golden Years of New Jazz


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