August 6, 2011
By Ken Waxman
Like that of many successful endeavours ranging from the mass production of the automobile, the feature-length cartoon or the personal computer, SoLyd record label’s driving force is one person. While Andrei Gavrilov, may or may not like the comparison to Walt Disney, Henry Ford or Steve Jobs, it’s his ideas, taste and finances that keep the Moscow-based label afloat and is responsible for its massive, (more than 400 releases) somewhat idiosyncratic catalogue. “Sometimes, when I look over the catalogue I get confused myself,” he admits.
Founded in 1993 and named for his daughters Sonia (So) and Lydia (Lyd), Gavrilov is not only SoLyd’s “head, president, owner, director, you name it” but also the label’s entire staff. A freelance journalist/broadcaster/translator since 1983, one of whose more unusual jobs is supplying Russian translation for the TV broadcast of the Academy Awards, Gavrilov initially worked for independent Russian publishing houses. He often wrote about art and music, which put him in contact with many musicians who subsequently appeared on SoLyd.
“I’ve known Andrei Gavrilov since the early 1970s when he used to attend all of the concerts when our Trio (Ganelin, Tarasov, Chekasin) played in Moscow,” recalls percussionist Vladimir Tarasov. “He is good friend to all jazz musicians in Russia. When the Sonore label, which published many CDs from our Trio, my solo and other projects went out of business, he bought the publishing rights and the sound archive.” Plans to reissue these sessions on SoLyd haven’t yet been realized. But in 2006 Gavrilov allowed Leo Records to include Tarasov’s Sonore material in its 11-CD Tarasov box set.
Re-issues don’t play too large a part in the SoLyd catalogue. In fact, says Gavrilov, “SoLyd releases only the music that I personally am interested in at the moment, and tastes can change with the time,” he notes. “But even though tastes change, the main principle remains – the project must be something new, something unorthodox and off the beaten track.” SoLyd has never concentrated on a single musical genre. So while jazz fans may know its CDs featuring improvisers, the catalogue also includes contemporary classical music, Russian rock and blues and local, radical “singing poets”. However the majority of rock releases are from bands either initially unknown or are side projects of more popular bands. The few pop CDs that became best-sellers – by Russian standards – also turn enough of a profit to help subsidize so-called avant-garde sessions.
Although SoLyd releases a combination of newly created and already recorded sessions, one fact remains constant: Gavrilov pays all costs involved, and each CD is marketed the same way. This decision was crucial during the late 1990s when the value of the American dollar to the ruble skyrocketed. With many recording firms bankrupt, disc pirating became rampant. To counter this and still sell CDs, legitimate companies such as SoLyd put out budget versions of their discs. Not surprisingly no improvised music was released as these budget “best-of” compilations. While SoLyd hung on to its artists and distributors, earning suffered. That situation finally rectified itself by 2008, but another irritant remains. As Gavrilov states, “Western distribution is the main problem for Russian labels.”
Today SoLyd discs are available for download and distribution through outlets such as CD Baby, Qualiton, Downtown Music Gallery and Amazon.de, but “for more than 10 years I bombarded European and US distributors with e-mail proposals for different kinds of collaborations. I sent out hundreds of samples with minimal results,” he recalls. “Many absolutely great, wonderful Russian musicians and recordings remain unknown in the west because Western distributors do not want to deal with Russian labels.”
That many of these “great, wonderful Russian musicians” released on SoLyd are part of the so-called avant-garde, concentrating on this music wasn’t a conscious decision, reports Gavrilov. It’s just that for him improv became more interesting over the years and other music less so. Many of the first avant efforts had nothing to do with jazz. One consisted of spontaneous improvisations by contemporary composers Vyacheslav Artyomov and Sofia Gubaidulina; another was by rocker Boris Grebenschikov. Ganelin Trio saxophonist Vladimir Chekasin’s Bolero-2 was the first jazz-improv session. Today the catalogue includes discs by pianist Alexey Lapin, bassist Vladimir Volkov and saxophonist Alexey Kruglov among many others.
“Gavrilov was a person who told me that a generation of musicians had arrived in Russia who are young, play well and think for themselves.” remembers Tarasov. “He told me about Alexey Kruglov, rented a studio and asked me to record two CDs [Dialogos SoLyd 403 and In Tempo SoLyd 404] with him. Playing with Kruglov I realized what Gavrilov had said was true. The saxophonist doesn’t play behind or ahead, he plays together with me and that’s great.”
Happenstance also accounted for SoLyd releasing CDs by non-Russians. Among the first was a CD of a Moscow concert by American pianist Joshua Pierce, followed by efforts like the Russian Second Approach trio’s disc with Roswell Rudd. Other SoLyd releases include ROVA’s Planetary (SoLyd SLR 0407), Anthony Braxton/Marel Yakshieva Improvisations (duo) 2008 (SoLyd SLR 0383/4), Matthew Shipp/Sabir Mateen Sama Live in Moscow (SoLyd SLR 0408) and Jones/Jones [Larry Ochs, Mark Dresser and Tarasov]’ We All Feel The Same Way SoLyd SLR 0396). Some sessions were even recorded in the United States. “It doesn’t really matter where the recording is made – you obtain the rights, you pay for them – what’s the difference between Moscow and New York?” asks Gavrilov.
“I only met Gavrilov once in May 2010, but working with him as an artist is a breeze,” says Ochs. An admirer of Tarasov’s playing the SoLyd owner was so impressed with a mix Ochs had done of music from a Jones/Jones mini-tour, that “he accepted the master immediately and released it in September 2009 on the occasion of our performance during the Moscow Biennale.” A Moscow recording the trio made is now set for 2011 release. As for the ROVA connection, the saxophonist recalls: “Somewhere between the mixing of Jones/Jones CD 1 and the recording of CD 2 I suggested a ROVA recording for his label. I thought the connection ROVA had with Russia, because of its two tours there in the 1980s, might interest him. Sure enough he decided that a ROVA CD, our first release on a Russian label, would be cool.”
Besides the second Jones/Jones set, other future SoLyd improvised music releases include Tarasov playing with pianist Matthew Goodheart and ROVA saxophonist Jon Raskin. It’s sessions like this that make jazz fans hope that distribution deals will soon make all SoLyd CDs easier to access.
—For New York City Jazz Record August 2011