Vladimir Rezitsky, or Volodya as he is affectionately known, has led the Jazz Group Arkhangelsk for over 22 years -- on the edge of the Arctic Circle. He has survived not only the cold but extreme poverty, and has prevailed in organizing international festivals and recording some 30 albums in the process. All the while the band evolved its membership, with 15 changes during that time. That wouldn't be a big deal if you were Duke Ellington in New York -- but in the Arctic, in a place not big enough to exist on a map? Forget it. So this is, above all, heroic jazz, and unlike any jazz we have ever heard before. It is "free jazz" that lacks any pretension or meandering ego play whatsoever. These five recordings are all that exist on CD of the JGA, all lovingly compiled by Leo Fegin from 60-odd hours of tape. That said, Volodya has had some pretty stellar musicians accompanying his saxophones over the past 22 years, from vocalist Sainkho Namchylak and pianist Vladimir Tarasov to flutist Georg Graf, the Kamerata String Quartet, and Tim Hodgkinson. These compositions are improvisations based on music that may be hundreds of years old. One listen to the vocal chanting of Namchylak on "Voices," as it is juxtaposed with Volodya's and Nikolai Klishin's scatted improvising, offers a unique and chilling view of worlds so old they don't have names. Add to this a tenor saxophone, flute, deep bowed bass, and drums, and you have a jazz so old it predates New Orleans by half a millennium. Yes, it really is jazz with killer blues phrasing from Volodya's tenor and skittering skeins of vocal notes plied with a deep rhythmic pulse. On "Zolotitsa" and "Shout Out the Devil With Your Own Voice," we get further evidence of how important the human voice -- with its timbral richness and inconsistent pitches -- is to Volodya's music. He seeks a jazz that is completely organic and fully rooted in the ice of his native land, but connected to the great tradition of improvisers who followed Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane. Voices begin each track, droning or scatting in spooky, shadowy phrases and moans for minutes at a time before the instrumentalists enter the fray. When they do, all bets are off and the music-making is in full swing. Volodya conducted the last piece here, "Planet Rezitsky," during a festival; it features Tarasov and the Kamerata String Quartet. It is a virtually egoless big-band improvisation, where tonalities and modal sonorities are the prime concern of every single player. Rezitsky himself rules with the loosest hand possible. The strings add a melancholy and elegiac feel before the jazz band's sense of humor and restlessness take over and get the party going rhythmically and harmonically. The strings join in the mash, and its off to the vodka distillery via the most joyous and crazy jazz heard since Louis Armstrong and Buddy Bolden strolled the French Quarter -- though they would surely have scratched their heads if they heard this. No matter. This is a revelatory collection of music as rare as the region it comes from. It adds immeasurably to the history, depth, and vision of jazz as not only a historical music, but as music dedicated to new forms of expression and exploration.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek