Ganelin Trio: Con Affetto
(Golden Years of New Jazz: GY2)
Vyacheslav Ganelin (piano, horns, percussion, little instruments), Vladimir Tarasov (percussion, horn), Vladimir Chekasin (reeds, percussion)
This is one of the four debut releases of Leo's new offshoot, "Golden Years of New Jazz", a somewhat ironically-titled label whose intention is to remind us that free jazz has been around for a rather long time, that it's a well-established genre with famous figures, classic recordings and, yes, "golden years".
This live Moscow recording finds the Ganelin Trio in good health in the autumn of 1983, and neatly reminds us of the origins of Leo Records and the now-famous CDLR101 and 102, the first astonishing glimpse of a Soviet avant garde jazz which sparkled and shimmered from its semi-illicit existence behind the iron curtain.
The group had been together for over a decade when this session was recorded, and of course the Trio has always been known for its odd brand of cohesion, the feeling they create of constantly almost-falling-apart and yet all landing together on some melody or other which seems to arise out of nowhere. One would have to be made of stone to find nothing to enjoy in the Ganelin Trio's recorded output.
The main bulk of this issue is a single piece "Semplice", issued for the first time in unaltered form. It's a performance lasting nearly an hour which is clearly built up from various sections. The first fifteen minutes, oddly enough, are virtually all percussion, but then there was always something odd about this group's strategies anyway. A fine piano solo by Ganelin follows, turning corners every few seconds and interrupted now and again by a cheap keyboard which he transforms into something strangely beautiful.
Chekasin doesn't seem to turn up until halfway through the set (though he's surely there making funny noises), but when he does he seems to signal a radical change in the music's direction. Like Ganelin, he enjoys intricate lines which never stay the same for long; both are expert at making abrupt changes seem both disconcerting and perfectly logical. Shortly afterwards, quite naturally, they drop into a lovely, bluesy hard bop piece which could just as easily be a Hank Mobley tune.
A couple of choruses in, they start deconstructing it from within, and it soon collapses into sprays of wild improv, but the music never gets far from jazz (the kind with tunes) after that. For encores, they take "Mack the Knife" (not like any other version you'll hear of it), a swoony mid-tempo ballad (untitled, but seemingly composed) and for the big finale... What else but a rarefied piece of chamber improv?
The figure of the clown has always been close to what the Ganelin Trio are all about. The sense of knockabout fun which seems to emerge from time to time in these otherwise very serious improvisations can be disconcerting. It has none of the arch cleverness of No Wave postmodernism, either; it's unadorned pie-in-the-face clownery. That's something Westerners find hard to accept, because for us experimental music is supposed to be avant garde, serious, cutting-edge. This disc probably won't add much to the Ganelin catalogue in terms of telling us anything new, but it does serve to remind us what a fine band they were, and how weird, uncategorisable and hard to pin down. If you're a confirmed Ganelin fan, this most certainly won't disappoint.