Leo Records CD LR 634

With its oligarchs, out-right criminals and a personality-cult president becoming increasingly authoritarian, freedom of expression appears under siege in Russia. Paradoxically, perhaps because great adversity often creates great art, the country’s Free Jazz community appears to be thriving – artistically at least.

Take for instance this exhilarating go-for-broke collection of eight improvisations recorded in front of an energized audience in St. Petersburg. The crowd had a good reason to be excited, for the CD matches two of the country’s younger improvisers – Alexey Kruglov playing soprano, alto and tenor saxophones, sometimes simultaneously, and pianist Alexey Lapin – with veteran drummer Oleg Yudanov, who played in Jazz Group Arkhangelsk. The Moscow-based saxophonist has recorded extensively with percussionists Vladimir Tarasov as well as with his own bands, while he and the pianist, a St. Petersburg native, have worked with saxophonist François Carrier and drummer Roger Turner to name two.

From the get-go, the three players meld as one, with Lapin’s low-pitched tremolo rumblings plus contrasting dynamics; Yudanov’s clattering shuffles and cymbal crashes; and Kruglov’s abstract overblowing and limpid glissandi combing into a great convulsing mass. Someone who has learned his lessons as a colorist, the drummer lays back most of the time, shaking or scrubbing parts of his kit rather than beating the drums. Yudanov moves to the foreground on the final selection, as well as more profoundly on “In Search of Silence” though. Again this is no empty display since percussionist’s highly inventive strategy on that track moves from paced rolls and pops to drumstick nerve beats taps and clicks as press rolls vanish inside march-tempo paradiddles. Meantime Kruglov takes that opportunity to exhibit his extended techniques with duck-like cries, smudged rasps and nephritic node splitting, blowing deep inside the body tubes of both saxes at once, most likely without mouthpiece attachments.

Wolf-like snarls and slap-tonguing from the saxophonist don’t prevent “Premonition” from being an equally distinctive Lapin showcase either. As the reedist busies himself with burbles and buzzes, the pianist not only provides a tremolo undercurrent, but on his own spins internal string plucks, soundboard extensions and high frequency chording into a breath-taking display of strummed syncopation, alongside subtle theme variations from his other hand. Later tracks show off the connection among Lapin’s careful voicing plus prepared-piano-like pops; Yudanov’s maracas shakes and processional rhythms as well as Kruglov’s decorative reed bites that initially deconstruct than reconstruct phrases as he plays.

However the epitome of how individualistic techniques can be melded into a satisfying whole comes on the saxophonist’s “The Ascent”. Limiting himself to drum top scrubs and later maraca shakes, the drummer cedes the foreground to the other two. Initially allowing Kruglov the leeway to conscientiously define his solo with stutters and flutters opening up into shrilling whistles and eviscerating renal tones, Lapin’s sympathetic response encompasses dramatic cascades and staccato voicing during an un-perturbed recital-worthy exposition. Goaded, the saxophonist produces thickening cries from two saxes, until that double blowing punctuation brought back to earth –and a rewarding conclusion – by Lapin’s pounding on a single key.

Appropriately listed under the names of each of the trio members, since each decisively contributes to the program, Impulse aptly demonstrates that if Russian impulses are turned to art not money and power, the results are exceptional.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Impulse 2. Premonition 3. Echoes of Russian Metaphor 4. Contemplation 5. The Ascent 6. System of Meanings 7. In Search of Silence 8. Rezume ... or a try of a new impulse

Personnel: Alexey Kruglov (soprano, alto and, tenor saxophones); Alexey Lapin (piano) and Oleg Yudanov (drums and percussion)