Military Space
Leo CD LR 675

Although most Russians no doubt take with a large dose of Siberian salt the purported physical prowess of strongman Vladimir Putin, one area in which former residents of the USSR actually excel is in the creation of no-holds-barred Free Jazz. Coming a little late to the party, these ex-Soviet musicians have the stamina and smarts to create their own variations on the style that can easily equals equivalent expression elsewhere in the world.

Three of the most consistently inventive players are featured here: Moscow reedman Alexey Kruglov, St. Petersburg pianist Alexey Lapin and drummer Oleg Yudanov, who gained his first fame in Arkhangelsk. Added to this trio of consistent improvisers for this live concert in Yoroslavi is visiting Estonian guitarist Jaak Sooäär. Sooäär who has a tendency to lean towards Rock-Fusion in his playing is nonetheless kept in check by the Russians here; furthermore his live electronics blend profoundly with Lapin’s prepared piano and Kruglov’s reed collection to create a satisfying whole.

Those who figure that Free Jazz should reflect the title of the quartet’s sixth selection, “Battlefield” should also notice that more than harsh extrusions and nearly limitless technique are on show here. Tensile, warp-speed glossolalia and crunching guitar chords may be the order of the day, but freneticism never lapses into incomprehension. For a start veteran Yudanov avoids noisy blustering. Laying down a steady tick-tock of untroubled percussion with complementary timbres, he sagely lets the others move linearly.

Most notable here is Lapin, who when he isn’t involved in stylish and sympathetic comping, comes up with recital-worthy expressions that on tracks such as “Energy” and “Plan for the Future”. Tellingly his solos are more closely related to steppe-wide Russian romanticism than Jazz-like improvised music that takes its clues from minimalist expression. In a contrary fashion, his continuous glissandi and circular clanks and clicks mark the summation of “Secret Briefing”. His distinctive chording helps define the climatic high point of the tune otherwise given over to the guitarist’s coiled and sustained string crunches and Kruglov’s strained bites, whistles and two saxes-at-once multiphonics. Nevertheless, these studied split tones don’t fully define the saxophonist either. An expressively speedy tune like “Rear Services” may end with Sooäär’s palm pumping variation on “Taps” evolving alongside the saxman’s short animal squeaks and whistles, but earlier on, in response to the drummer’s restrained swing feel and the pianist’s slurred fingering, Kruglov slickly vibrates a variant of “Giant Steps”

Having ingeniously constructed an original concept of Free Jazz out of advanced Western improvisation and bedrock Russian themes, the quartet triumphs with a high-quality CD. More poignantly, the military space in which they triumph musically is far removed and much preferable to the equivalent bellicose location Putin and his allies would like to create.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Assault 2. Energy 3. Rear Services 4. Secret Briefing 5. Plan for the Future 6. Battlefield 7. Second Breath 8. Triumph

Personnel: Alexey Kruglov (alto and tenor saxophones, basset horn, block-flutes, tenor sax with trombone mouthpiece and prepared saxophones); Alexey Lapin (piano and prepared piano); Jaak Sooäär (guitar and live electronic) and Oleg Yudanov (drums)