Vladimir Miller

Frontiers

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This 1994 one-off meeting of British pianist (of Russian descent) Vladimir Miller, legendary Russian drummer Vladimir Tarasov (of the Ganelin Trio), and Lithuanian trombonist Vitas Pilibavichus was recorded at a theater in Vilnius, Lithuania, in 1995. It is not known whether the gig was part of a festival or a stand-alone concert. No matter. The set stands on its own as a testament to the kind of Eastern European, and particularly Russian, jazz being made at the time, and Miller sticks out like a sore thumb. The pairing of the trombonist and Tarasov is natural, fully enveloped in the joyous, daring improvisation that was the signature of contemporary jazz from the region at that time, and still is to some degree. Miller is more formalist in his approach to playing on all three of these selections. It is possible, given his fawning liner notes, that he had a deer-in-the-headlights episode during these proceedings, or that he just wasn't musically up to the task of the physicality of the improvisation. It's true he is credited as either author or co-author of all of the compositions on this disc. But, in a sense, his intro and codas are where his artistic contribution to these proceedings stops. Pilibavichus is a monster of improvisation on the trombone; his knowledge of tonal shapes and shifts on the instrument is encyclopedic. His notions of interval shifts and harmonic changes are radical though firmly in the jazz tradition, and his sheer flexibility and speed make him formidable. His scalar improvisations and intervalic inventions in the improvised sections of these works make it nearly impossible for Miller to do anything but vamp his way through changes in both pitch and rhythm that are lightning quick. Tarasov, no stranger to surprises and angular time signatures, kicks things into a gear that is always in overdrive. Thus, Miller is left in the dust, floundering about with some half-baked harmonic idea that belongs on a Bill Evans record more than it does here. His attempt at taming this powerful duo of collaborators fails miserably, and it's obvious it is he who doesn't understand their language. As a result, the proceedings suffer greatly and even the crowd is aware -- there is polite applause at the end of each selection, but that's all. Nonetheless, Pilibavichus and Tarasov are brilliant in their attempts to save the date by shaping the improvisations into modes that Miller can hold onto, but even then their playing is so instinctual and rhythmically advanced that he cannot find the handle to pull himself onto this speeding, shambolic train.

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