Ganelin Trio

Priority: Live at the Lithuanian National Philharmony Vilnius 2005 [CD]

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When in their prime in the '70s and '80s, the Soviet Union-based Ganelin Trio certainly laid claim as the premier free jazz ensemble from the Eastern Bloc. Pianist Vyacheslav Ganelin, drummer Vladimir Tarasov, and saxophonist Vladimir Chekasin made stunning recordings, swapping roles by trading instruments at will, and making music that was more whole than any sum of its parts. So thoroughly thrilling was their approach, especially for Western audiences, that they became a leading force until political nonsense eventually got in the way, and stripped them of their sovereign place in jazz. Ganelin fled to reside in Israel, and the other two have yet to resurface. Now the Ganelin Trio have risen, with Lithuanian saxophonist Petras Vysniauskas and German drummer Klaus Kugel as helpmates for the brilliant keyboardist and percussionist in a concert performance at the National Philharmony in Vilnius, Lithuania. Priority features two exhaustingly long spontaneous compositions titled "Conversation," one almost 34 minutes, the other nearly 40. Many elements of power, fury, dissonance, fierce bop, investigation, collective discourse, and insane creativity can be heard. Kugel is fond of Japanese and African drumming, usage of clattery little instruments, and the driving jazz force of Max Roach. What Vysniauskas brings to the table is quite unlike Chekasin, as his alto and especially soprano sax tend to be more tonic, and he uses whole long tones frequently rather than choppy, squawky overtones. Ganelin plays interrogative acoustic piano, a bit of bass synthesizer, electric sonic skyscapes, and circus Kurt Weill-type bombast. He'll also play the inside of the piano strings and use mallets on the cymbals, drums, and piano strings, and is as unfettered and uninhibited as any musician you will ever hear. While "Conversation I" and "Conversation II" are pieces of epic proportions, and largely indescribable in any short descriptor, "Homage to Friends" is a bit easier to discern. It's a three-part suite bookended by some absolutely pretty piano musings from Ganelin, with some keyboard bass, soprano sax, and a dramatic, ominous, foreboding shout middle section. One would think it's a tribute to the other members of the Ganelin-Tarasov-Chekasin trio who are absent. It would be unfair to compare this combo to the original, but the bandmembers play in the spirit, language, and depth of the initial group. They deserve hearty commendation for their efforts, in hopes that this thoroughly original concept can be carried out to whatever nth degree and infinite inspiration that can be conjured.

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