June 11, 2010
Thinking of Khlebnikov
No Business Records NBCD 10
We All Feel The Same Way
SoLyd Records SLR 0396
Probably still best-known after all these years as one-third of the Ganelin Trio –
which was the avant-garde ensemble that operated most openly in the pre-Glasnost Soviet Union – percussionist Vladimir Tarasov has followed two complementary paths since the trio dissolved in 1987.
A visual artist as well as a drummer, the now Vilnius-based Tarasov has expressed his musical creativity on an acclaimed series of solo discs, of which Thinking of Khlebnikov is the newest. Always up for collaborations, he has established a long-time partnership with expatriate American vocalist Lauren Newton and recorded with the Moscow Composers Orchestra, Hungarian pianist György Szabados and American reedist Anthony Braxton among others. We All Feel The Same Way – note the double meaning of the title – matches Tarasov with two California-based improvisers, saxophonist Larry Ochs and bassist Mark Dresser.
Appreciation for Thinking of Khlebnikov, a nearly 35-minute percussion excursion, may vary depending on how familiar one is with the poetry of Viktor Vladimirovich (Velimir) Khlebnikov (1885-1922), the founder of Russian Futurism. A poet’s poet, his work contains many neologisms as well as verse based on the shapes and sounds of individual letters of the Cyrillic alphabet. Coining novel rhythmic expressions, playing around with sound textures and altering the shape of already existing entities are characteristics Tarasov shares with Khlebnikov. A PDF file of an essay by Igor Romanenkov, included on this enhanced CD may go further in enumerating the linkages, but it’s printed only in Russian.
Instead focus on the percussionist’s multi-directional patterning as he moves among different cymbals, a series of drums – one of which has the low-pitched sonority of a kettle drum – and various percussion add-ons, from triangle and claves to bells and tambourines. Using a variety of techniques, including thick strokes, cross sticking, nerve beats, hand patting and ratcheting, the rhythmic result is both polyphonic and multiphonic. Recorded live at a Berlin music-poetry festival, the nine sound poems which make up this anthology flawlessly intersect and intertwine, from initial exposition to finale.
Along the way Tarasov layers differing timbres for unexpected results as when rim shots, a lumbering back beat and polyrhythmic cymbal interjections follow mallet-driven bass drum reverberations or when textures splinter between door-stopper-like ratcheting and what would result if a junkeroo was recorded playing gamelans. Sometimes the procedure is bluntly vociferous with ruffs, rebounds and drags resounding on snares and rims; other times the hand-and-stick procedure is barely audible, with xylophone-like chiming and bell-ringing tick-tocks. At points it even sound as if he’s beating on a plastic laundry tub.
This Khlebnikov salute isn’t an epic like Howl or The Wasteland are poetic landmarks. That’s because the Russian poet’s verse was more like what was produced by more obtuse poets such as e e cummings or Kenneth Patchen. Still the CD exposes the innate lyricism available when a linked series of mutable sonic verses are shaped using multiphionic timbres.
If solo playing is akin to the singular contemplation needed for the creation of poetry, then group playing is more prosaic, but equally praiseworthy in the right hands. Notable ensembles function like journalists piecing together the material for a major news report – each adds more bits of information which a together become the final story. So it is with this band, although with the five tracks recorded either in St. Petersburg or Amsterdam, it’s not clear which, if any, of the participants is the foreign correspondent and which is covering local news. Neither is the reason for the band name nor why the other four compositions besides the title track have the name Jones in them explained. Maybe We All Feel The Same Way needed a tougher (musical) copy editor.
Most versatile member of the ROVA sax quartet, having worked with everyone from koto player Miya Masoka to bassist/circuitry manipulator Lisle Ellis, Ochs is up for every challenge, as is Dresser, who now teaches at the university level, having played with free-thinkers ranging from Braxton to cellist Frances-Marie Uitti.
On the CD the three take turns providing the lead narrative then sprinkle adjectival and adverbial tinctures as the musical story evolves. “Have You Met Miss Microtonal Jones?” for example concentrates circular-breathed and widely vibrated reed bites, solid bass-string stopping and wood-block and mini-cymbal pinging into a writhing whole. As Tarasov’s bell ringing and cymbal resonating accelerate and Dresser’s woody strums evolve to sharpened cries, Ochs’ staccato output splays into a series of tongue-stops, split tones and smears. An intermezzo of discordant, high-sticking ruffs and flams from the percussionist signals a page turn, as the three fuse their contributions into a summation of half-masticated trills and tongue slaps from Ochs, clanking nerve beats from Tarasov and hardened triple-stopping from Dresser.
Not confined to any one section of this aural publication, the trio members prove equally versatile elsewhere. For instance they exhibit harsh and squeezed tenor saxophone tones, hi-hat friction and slithering bass strokes as they ease into “In Jones We Trust”, perhaps a nod to the fanciful publication’s business section? With the saxophonist exhaling bugle-like overblowing that is alternately altissimo or whiny plus pedal point growling, Dresser deepens broken-octave connection with shuffles and strums. Staccato string slices from the bassist and irregular rhythms from the percussionist mute the exposition and calm it down to a satisfactory finale. Tremolo lyricism is on show elsewhere, as the trio demonstrates that its mastery of feature-article-like coloring is as pronounced as its hard-news toughness.
Overall while Yank insularity and anti-improv sentiments from the organization itself will ensure that none of the three will win a Pulitzer Prize for music – or poetry or prose for that matter – both these CDs featuring Tarasov are masterful and individual.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Thinking: 1. Introduction 2. … having saddled a herd of sounds 3. … I’ll somehow hobble over the desolate time… 4. … bi-chiming dreams… 5. … where lived reedlings... 6. … pin, pin, pin! – rumbled zinzeever…7. … winging golden script of thinnest veins… 8. … poles and poles, and poles… 9. … we are soundmen…
Personnel: Thinking: Vladimir Tarasov (drums and percussion)
Track Listing: We: 1. In Jones We Trust 2. Type Jones Positive 3. Jones Zone 4. Have You Met Miss Microtonal Jones? 5. We All Feel The Same Way
Personnel: We: Larry Ochs (sopranino and tenor saxophone); Mark Dresser (bass) and Vladimir Tarasov (percussion)