Eugene Maslov: The Witch (Baba-Yaga)

Russian-born Eugene Maslov emigrated to the U.S. in 1989 after studying classical piano as well as taking Jazz Studies, and eventually settled in Philadelphia. Although he has recorded several CDs, he is far from a household name, despite a dynamic and flexible piano style that can be as effusive as Oscar Peterson's or as wistful as Bill Evans's. Maslov's tour-de-force performance of "The Witch (Baba-Yaga)" brings to the fore an intense passion coupled with prodigious technique. Baba Yaga in Slavic folklore is a menacing witch who flies around on an oversized mortar, terrorizing children. The ninth piece of Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky's piano suite Pictures at an Exhibition is dedicated to this mythological character, and the rock group Emerson Lake & Palmer, in their popular adaptation of this suite, also added an original composition, "The Curse of Baba Yaga." Now it was Maslov's turn to bring Baba Yaga to musical life.

The pianist's whirlwind excursion ebbs and flows, containing boppish, swinging sections in contrast to its pensive, mystical interludes. Swirling runs and pounding chords alternate with passages of childlike wonder. A remarkable extended fantasia is backed by haunted vocalizing (or is it Kozlov's arco bass?). Dissonant broodings laced with foreboding do not prepare you for Maslov's gentle concluding phrases. This and many other tracks by this superb pianist are well worth hearing.

September 09, 2008 · 0 comments


Oleg Kireyev: Lullaby

Oleg Kireyev begins his "Lullaby" with a soft, almost pastoral lone saxophone voice with a Middle Eastern influence. Kireyev, who hails from Russia, then mixes in the sounds of undulating electronic keyboards, faintly echoed guitar, and slightly distorted vocals à la Ursala Dudziak to create an otherworldly landscape. His use of synthesized keyboard morphs from flute to violin voicings, all the while building on this odd and somewhat quirky endeavor in sonic texturing. Hardly a traditional lullaby, the song moves from exploratory, ethereal drifting into a driving vamp over which Kireyev ventures unchallenged with a burst of ideas and energy on tenor sax. By this time, the band has abandoned all pretense of lulling anyone to sleep. Their driving beat reminds me of the rhythmic explorations of the German band Passport and Klaus Doldinger. With many disparate influences, their sound borders on jazz-fusion meeting Eastern folk music. Not for everyone, but certainly an interesting adventure in sound.

May 13, 2008 · 0 comments


Oleg Kireyev: Mandala

Wow! These Russians, and one African, really cook! According to the liner notes, I am hearing jazz music infused with Moldavian and Asian melodies and African rhythms. Is that what this wonderful stuff is? If so, I am hooked.

"Mandala" starts off with a filthy fusion guitar and bass drum explosion. A heavy funk beat settles in. Then out of nowhere we are in Moldavia dancing in circles. We are stopped in our tracks by an African chant that seems totally out of place – except that it is in a great place. This is some weird shit. A mesmerizing rhythm takes over. What's this? Indian syllables? Yes. The tune finishes with a riff flourish from all corners of the world. So much going on and so little time…

In 1964, U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Potter Stewart wrote that pornography was hard to define, but "I know it when I see it." I feel the same way about this music. I can't quite define what I heard. But I know that I liked it.

May 06, 2008 · 0 comments


Simon Nabatov: Simple Simon

It could be a Dollar Brand (Abdullah Ibrahim) song, with its South African-like dancing feel and melody that alludes to Protestant hymns. But Nabatov's piano, though earthy, is more sophisticated than that of the South African musician. Still, it's an interesting foray by the Russian-born pianist into a type of music that is best played with the adopted feeling. Nabatov and his partners don't mimic South African jazz. They just play this music with their soul, and manage to be very convincing.

February 26, 2008 · 0 comments


Arkady Shilkloper: Alpine Sketch

This track is both highly enjoyable and technically remarkable. Alone in the studio with his instruments and a tape recorder, Russian horn virtuoso Arkady Shilkloper takes us on a colorful ride through his imaginary mountains. It starts out funky with a very urban overdubbed horn choir, next some kind of mountain shepherd's call summons us out to the countryside, then comes a two-horn call and response. It's physically challenging and downright funny from beginning to end. A must!

February 19, 2008 · 0 comments


The Ganelin Trio: Conversation III

One of the most intriguing aspects of fully improvised music is the live transfer of ideas from musician to musician. When it works, the listener can witness a single mind coming together as musical fragments imply future directions. The Ganelin Trio displays this concept beautifully, transitioning from the soft and quiet to the loud and chaotic and back again. When Ganelin allows the notes of a descending arpeggio to fall on the floor, Kugel and Vysniauskas pick them up and continue the story – a tale being constructed in the moment, yet seeming like it has been around since the beginning of time.

February 12, 2008 · 0 comments


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