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CD GY 413/416

CD GY 413/416 - Golden Years of New Jazz

Ganelin / Chekasin / Tarasov / Vladimir Chekasin Quartet / Chekasin - Vysniauskas Quintet / the Ganelin Trio 

Golden Years of the Soviet New Jazz Vol.IV

Release date: 2003/08

4 CD-box (audio): GBP 20.00
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Disc 1 Vyacheslav Ganelin solo; Ganelin/Chekasin duo - 77'48
Disc 2 Tarasov/Chekasin duo; Ganelin/Tarasov duo - 77'24
Disc 3 Vladimir Chekasin Quartet; Chekasin/Vysniauskas Quintet - 60'20
Disc 4 The Ganelin Trio - 75'02

The last volume documenting golden years of the Soviet new jazz is devoted entirely to the legendary Ganelin Trio. First three discs deal with the musicians of the trio playing in different combinations with each other and their own groups while disc 4 boasts two major works by the Trio. Accompanied by a 28-page booklet, this edition will finally help re-evaluate the significance of the Trio for the development of music inside the Iron Curtain. It will also help finding a proper place for the Trio amongst the best new jazz ensembles of Europe and America. Limited edition 750 copies.

Liner Notes

( Collapse liner notes )
I first heard the name of Ganelin in the least likely place. It was the winter of 1976-77 and I did my obligatory year of the army service in a remote garrison on the island of Novaya Zemlya, beyond the Polar Circle. Information and music deprivation were amongst the most severe burdens of the most excruciating experience and I avidly waited for every letter from the mainland. Apart from news about family and friends I was desperate for what was going in the world of music from which I was forcibly cut off -- there was no way of course in the Soviet army to receive new recordings or listen to the BBC, Voice of America or Radio Liberty. Fresh out of the University, I was still very much into rock: progressive bands like King Crimson, Yes, and Jethro Tull carried the flag of the day. Although my jazz initiation had begun before I was drafted -- I remember listening to Willis Conover's Jazz Hour on Voice of America and even some jazz-rock and early ECM on Polish radio improvised music was still pretty much a terra incognita. Apart from a couple of token compilations with fabulous but totally harmless Ella and Louis on Melodia, neither I, nor any of my friends had much jazz in our record or tape collections.
I will never forget the exhilarating shock I experienced when a like-minded friend proudly informed me in a letter that Melodia, that bastion of conformity, released a record compared to which King Crimson (then the epitome of the avant-garde for us) sounded, he said in the letter, "like a nursery rhyme". The record he had in mind was Con Anima -- the Ganelin trio's first official release. Outside major capitals where I lived then, the record, although officially published, proved not any easier to find than any Western rarity. With a great effort, upon my return home after the army service, I could find only a copy in a "blind" cover -- no cover art, no names of the musicians, no instrumentation listed.
Nevertheless, it was a window into a new world. To find the door I had to move to Leningrad, and finally, in October 1978, at the concerts of the very first Autumn Rhythms festival, I saw the trio live for the first time. Along with my other great discoveries of those few days: Anatoly Vapirov with then very young Sergey Kuryokhin and Arkhangelsk -- the trio stood out among the otherwise rather plain derivative mainstream.
Of course, I soon found Con Anima in a proper sleeve with supremacist red triangle and the names that looked weird with their funny and totally inappropriate Lithuanian flexions: Ganelinas, Tarasovas, Chekasinas. Of course, they were from Vilnius in Lithuania, the westernmost corner of the Soviet Union, the avant post of freedom and "otherness".
By the time I met them in the late 1970s the trio had reached the peak of their creativity. I was fortunate to see them in full glory and power. The story began, however, much earlier when in mid-sixties, Vyacheslav (Slava) Ganelin, still a student of piano and composition at the Vilnius conservatory, in spite of the prevailing craze for rock went into jazz. With Bill Evans as his first strong inspiration, Ganelin played impressionistic piano both solo and with various partners at the Neringa Cafe -- the mainstay of Lithuanian jazz life. It was there that he met Vladimir Tarasov, then a newcomer to Vilnius where he escaped from his hometown Arkhanglesk, far in the Russian North. Not that there was no jazz life in Arkhangelsk: even before leaving Tarasov had played there with Vladimir Resitsky, who later on created Arkhangelsk -- one of the country's best jazz bands. But cosmopolitan westernised Vilnius offered many more opportunities for the aspiring jazz neophyte.
The two played together from 1969 to 1971. It was at that early stage that Ganelin, equipped with a classical composer training, started giving his programmes Italian titles which sounded -- certainly with a bit of tongue in cheek -- like "proper" classical pieces. The first of these titles -- Opus A Due -- was reused again in 1982 when growing frictions with Chekasin forced Ganelin to go back to the roots of the trio, i.e. his duo with Tarasov.
Chekasin, however, at that time played feverish Charlie Parker/Ornette Coleman inspired alto sax in his home city of Sverdlovsk (now Ekaterinburg), thousands miles east, deep into Russia, in the Urals. He was blissfully unaware of the duo's existence, even though they had gained some notoriety in the jazz community having played at a number of festivals across the country. He didn't even bother to show up at their concert when they came to Sverdlovsk to play at the local jazz club. He was too busy that night blowing his own horn at a dancing hall for the military, literally next door to the club. The concert organiser, a local jazz enthusiast was, however, eager to show the visiting guests a home-grown talent and after the concert he brought Ganelin and Tarasov into the officers' club.
"As soon as we walked into the hall we saw a fascinating sight", -- reminiscences Tarasov in his book The Trio. "Up on the elevated stage stood Chekasin swinging his sax and playing in Coltrane style, absolutely freely, without even a slightest hint of rhythm. Baby-faced Ural girls in awkward felt boots were helplessly stomping in the middle trying to find at least a semblance of time in his wild playing. Can you imagine dancing to Coltrane?" (Vladimir Tarasov, Trio)
A subsequent short jam left no doubts. Right there and then the decision was made and a few weeks later Chekasin was already in Vilnius. "We had always tried to find musicians who would share our way of thinking and our style. Everybody we had tried before could at best be a decent accompanist, without a trace of their own initiative. Vladimir Chekasin was the first. And the last". (Vladimir Tarasov, Trio)
It was a remarkable symbiosis, a unity much bigger than the sum of its parts. Ganelin: ratio, reason, structure, form and probably not quite consistently, but hugely importantly -- humor. Tarasov: driving force, engine, and at the same time inexhaustible inventiveness in embellishing the overall sound with myriads of delicate subtle sonic nuances. In other words, much more of a percussionist than a drummer. Tellingly, it was Tarasov who after the trio's collapse played solo more than the other two. And Chekasin: thrust, vitality, wild unharnessed energy, emotional power multiplied by formidable technical prowess.
For a good decade, which fortunately coincided with the trio's breakthrough in the West, they were really awe-inspiring. Even for us who knew their records and saw them at least once, often two or three times a year, some of these concerts really sent shivers down the spine. And at the same time they were full of fun, wit and even sarcasm, which, however, was never malicious. A powerful three-headed beast, a gentle giant, who could also be delicate, subtle and funny. Take their great encores: Mack the Knife or Summertime -- if they played jazz classics it had to be with humour.
Each of those concerts in the late 70s and early 80s was a festival of free spirit. Everybody you knew in town, whether it was Leningrad or Moscow, Vilnius or Odessa, Riga or Novosibirsk, was there. And not because it was a social occasion. With most of the arts heavily censored, improvised music by definition bore a spirit of rebellion. Artists, writers, people of film and theatre, just anybody capable and willing to think, flocked to those concerts. The omnipotent regime frowned: "Should we be ahead of the West even in the avantgarde? No, our people don't need this kind of music" -- this utterance of the Melodia boss which delayed the release of their second LP Concerto Grosso for three years became proverbial. Ironically -- or understandably? -- confrontation and hostility were at times even more acrimonious from within the jazz community. A prominent Moscow musician and composer never referred to the trio in any other way than as musical eccentrics and clowns.
We took incredible pride in the trio's success in the West, which, we realized, was based first and foremost on the originality and profundity of their music. Thanks to Western recognition they were about the only avant-garde jazz band that were actually allowed to make it out of the underground into official Soviet recognition. Like Andrei Tarkovsky's films or Yuri Liubimov's Taganka theatre, they were single spots of quality and freshness in otherwise dull socialist realism landscape of the official art.
They were also a beacon for the others to follow. Everybody else: from Sergey Kuryokhin to Arkhangelsk, from Tri-O to Guyovoronsky and Volkov were trailing behind, their quest made easier by pathfinders from The Ganelin Trio. Their influence spread across the bor- ders far beyond jazz: in 1974 they played concerts with Dmitry Pokrovsky Ensemble -- the pioneers in unearthing authentic Russian ethnic music; in 1979 they introduced the element of performance art which Tarasov later on developed in his performances with Ilya Kabakov and Dmitry Prigov; Chekasin was the first to turn his performances into burlesque theatrical shows, and it was there that Kuryokhin borrowed the basic idea for his Popular Mechanics.
But still their most enduring accomplishment is of, course, the music itself. It is fortunately, thanks mostly to Leo Records, well documented. Unfortunately it is not nearly as well studied and analysed. This is hardly the place for the long overdue thorough analysis of the trio's music. Tarasov's book, fascinating reading as it is, provides a lot of historical facts but, alas, shies away not only from how this magnificent music was actually being created but also from discussing extremely complex relationships between the three individuals. These relationships produced the vibrant, vital and tragic art, but inevitably led to the trio's collapse in the mid 1980s.
Their paths went totally astray from each other. In the last couple of years before the final collapse in 1987, they played together mostly out of necessity and inertia; human interaction, unity and cohesion long gone. I remember a very long and very sad conversation I had with Ganelin on the eve of his departure to Israel: he just felt he could not go on like this anymore. Now in Israel, he teaches at the conservatory, composes music, occasionally performs and releases new recordings. Tarasov is all over the world with countless ambitious performances in most prestigious venues. His love of visual arts and many friendships with influential artists translated not only into numerous commissions but encouraged him into doing his own projects in visual arts. Russian Museum in St.Petersburg featured an exhibition of his work in March 2003. He's the only one still in Vilnius, at the time of this writing holding a prominent position as the General Manager at the same theatre where Ganelin worked for many years before emigration. Chekasin is like a travelling band, now in Moscow, then in Vilnius, then in Odessa, then in Germany, staging extravagant shows with dance, brass bands and what not.
If you want my opinion, not one of them could match in their separate work the level of music the trio produced.
For years the breakup seemed to be totally irreversible. Two years after Ganelin emigrated, in 1989, all three were at Soviet Avant Jazz Festvial in Zurich. Even the idea of playing together was unmentionable.
With years old acrimonies faded away. In October 2002, at the Frankfurt Book Fair the trio played together for the first time in 15 years. All the ingredients of the former Ganelin Trio were there, as if this 15-year gap did not happen. But the much anticipated reunion turned out to be more of a warm up. At the time these notes are being written it is still unclear whether it was a one off event or a beginning of a comeback.

Alexander Kan,
London, April 2003.

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