Monday, October 29, 2012
Back in the early days of this blog, I wrote about the Ganelin Trio, the incredible improvising jazz outfit from Russia ca. the '70s/'80s. I'm not even going to reference it, nor look it up: I simply know that I wrote about their Poco-A-Poco CD on the Leo label w/ great reverence. It is reverence well justified. I'm currently on a bit of a Ganelin Trio kick, and at some point in your life on earth, I'd recommend you do the same. Their music will blow your fuckin' head off.
Russia, at least as it was in the former Soviet Union, is not exactly the kind of place you'd consider to be a hotbed of blazing jazz action. That may be because you consider the Russian people too austere, too serious, too unswingin' to be jazz people (you'd be wrong); or it may be because you're under the impression that just about all forms of fun, especially subversive fun like RADICAL FREE JAZZ would've been outlawed by its former communist government (that is mostly true). However, the leader, Vyacheslav Ganelin, was held - and is still held - in great esteem by the music community in Russia and hence played and recorded his music relatively hassle-free.
The "classic" trio also consisted of pianist Ganelin, saxophonist Vladimir Chekasin and percussionist Vladimir Tarasov. This line-up was solidified in 1971 and blew minds for a couple of decades. They started releasing albums - pretty much all of them live - in the late '70s for Russian emigre Leo Feigin's Leo Records imprint, and began to play jazz festivals in western Europe. Jazz critics worth a bean hailed them as the best free jazz group in thw world. They mighta been right.
A few weeks ago, my buddy Predrag from Perth told me he was selling off a bunch of his jazz records for a bit of extra cash. He listed four Ganelin LPs up for grabs. Original vinyl, good nick, $10 a-piece. I told him they were sold. My desperation levels hit Def-Con 4 and I decided then and there that I needed them. Don't ask me where this desperation came from: I hadn't listened to my other Ganelin CDs in over half a decade... but sometimes it all comes flooding back to you and you realise a revisiting is in order.
I got my hands on 1981's Con Fuoco, '83's Con Afetto, '84's Strictly For Our Friends and 1988's threeminusoneequalsthree. The latter is a duo 2LP set between Cekasin and Ganelin, and is equal to any of the trio LPs, alhough it veers more into contemporary avant-garde territory: more AMM, less Coltrane.
I once described, possibly in the pages of this very blog, the Ganelin Trio as sounding like a basement-dwelling eastern European version of the Art Ensemble Of Chicago. There's some truth in that - the use of "small" and unconventional instrumenets in the mix, for one - but whereas the AEOC looked towards Africa for inspiration, Ganelin Trio are pure Euro avant-garde, mixing up folk melodies, Russophilian classical motifs (I doubt that's even a word...), hard-arsed improv of the FMP/Incus school and a real swing, the kind of momentum you only get from players who really understand jazz and that it's supposed to move.
Ganelin even plays synth and electric keys on occasion, and it absolutely works within the music. Chekasin's sax work closely resembles Ornette's late '60s/early '70s playing - high-energy blasts which rarely delve into Ayleresque screech territory - and Tarasov's percussive experiments are totally engaging in their use of all manner of kitchen-sink materials. Engaging is exactly what this music is. It never stays in the same place for too long, and the manner in which it combines what sound like familiar melodies w/ hot-wired improv is the stuff of the gods.
All of these albums are currently in print, cheap and available via Leo Records' web site. The music of the Ganelin Trio is something which should be known far and wide, certainly outside of its contemporary listenership of Wire readers and hopeless jazz nerds (both spectrums of which cover me adequately, thanks). You don't wanna miss this boat: they're totally worth it. Vyacheslav is still musically active today, making vital sounds 30-40 years later. You can check out his current group, Ganelin Priority, right here.
For something completely different, check out the clip below from Englishman David Munrow.
Munrow died in 1976 at the age of 33, though in his time he did more to popularise the music of the pre-Renaissance era - "early music", if you will - than just about anyone else in Ol' Blighty (or indeed the world). His biography, his importance, is massive, although he is consigned to a footnote to all but select boffins in the 21st century. In his time, he worked with directors Ken Russell and John Boorman, as well as Shirley and Dolly Collins, and tragically took his own life as a young man. His Art Of Courtly Love set, is considered a must, but given its currently scarce status, it remains from my grasp. Easily-obtainable CDs of his music are well within your grasp.
My friend Neil Sweeney, an American who lived in Australia for roughly a decade and now resides just outside of Baltimore, has got me hooked on this guy. Neil is a music obsessive who, when he gets his claws into a genre, must wringe it dry for all it's worth, and I mean that in a good way. His obsession with this music has made him an expert in little time. He is currently in the process of setting up a shop-within-a-shop, Alte Werks, which is to be based in the Baltimore record store/performance space, True Vine, an outlet which also happens to be co-owned by an old buddy of mine, Jason Willett (who used to run the Megaphone Records label, as well as being a member of Half Japanese and Jad Fair's band who toured here in 1997 and '99).
His mission is to convert the rock slobs of this world to the wonders of music before the concepts of Enlightenment and Reason became popular notions. I suspect that he, just like David Munrow himself, may actually be the ultimate pre-Renaissance man. If you're ever in the area, you may want to check it out.