Moscow Composers Orchestra

An Italian Love Affair

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The final in a series of three CDs that feature the idiosyncratic Moscow Composer's Orchestra led by the incomparable Vladimir Miller and featuring ex-Ganelin Trio drummer Vladimir Tarasov and, of course, Tuvan vocalist Sainkho Namchylak. The reason for the title of the album is that it was recorded live at the Bolzano Jazz Festival. Unlike the other discs in this series, this one features long versions of two previously released compositions -- "Two Tone Tuva" and "March of the Animals" -- and the title piece, improvised especially for this disc. And with this group, that is what you're hearing, a big band engaged in complete improvisation other than a few loosely scribbled sheets of musical directions by Miller. At the time of this recording, in June 1995, big-band jazz was at its height in Russia, a longstanding popularity that had weathered Stalin, Khrushchev, Breznev, Kosygyn, and flourished under Gorbachev. Yeltsin was a man for whom culture had no place -- he simply ignored it. In any case, MCO is a big band in the most wonderfully chaotic sense of the word. These works, particularly "Two Tone Tuva," strike from the very heart of group improvisation: The players look to Namchylak for inspiration, and she provides plenty as her voice swoops, soars, and curdles in its fragmented moans and groans. They take cues from her sense of dynamic interval and create frames of emotion around her. Instruments enter and leave at random, combing through the textures and atmospheres being created at the time. Musical style may shift, and one can hear as much Frank Zappa as, say, the Baltic Conservatory or Stan Kenton and Gil Evans. When they reach the appointed spaces where instructions are called for, they do so with a ragged elegance Charles Mingus would admire. This is an hour of engaging and sometimes truly astonishing music.

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