Nikolai Kapustin

24 Preludes in Jazz Style

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The jazz-classical fusion music of Nikolai Kapustin has been gaining attention outside Russia, partly due to the sheer novelty of jazz-influenced Russian music. Ukrainian-born Kapustin came by his jazz influence honestly; he liked the music from his teenage years and performed it on the side while studying at the Moscow Conservatory. He was, to quote the title of a study of Soviet Russian jazz, "Red and Hot." Yet "performed" is the right word, rather than "played," and Kapustin's jazz has always been of a peculiar kind: he does not improvise but writes everything out. Furthermore, the selections on this album, at least, don't reflect the jazz practice of elaborating on preexisting material. The jazz content of the 24 Preludes in Jazz Style, Op. 53, and the other short pieces heard here resides not in form or even always in melodic idiom but in rhythm. A valid criticism of Kapustin is that you can imagine the music without the jazz rhythms, played "straight." Yet Kapustin would have answers to all this. He rejects the label of jazz composer, arguing that his music is classical, pure and simple. His knowledge of jazz is vast, and part of the charm of the music is hearing all the jazz styles on parade. The locus is ragtime and stride, moving forward into the novelty music of the 1920s, Art Tatum (who seems to be the musician who really stuck in Kapustin's ear), more modern piano up to Dave Brubeck, and even lounge music. All are overlaid with chromatic harmony and contrapuntal artifice, and the overall density of the music is impressive. On top of all this is the unusual deployment of the cycle of 24 keys in the preludes, with the major and minor circles of fifths alternating and beginning at different points on the circle so that successive pieces clash. Western pianists have begun to take up Kapustin's works, but the composer himself, heard here, is entirely convincing, and it's good to have his own interpretations on record. Booklet notes are in English, Dutch, and Russian, apparently with a different version in each language. Recommended for those with a speculative frame of mind in considering the knotty problem of reconciling classical music and jazz.

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