The Ways of Freedom

Sergey Kuryokhin

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The Ways of Freedom Review

by Chris Kelsey

The Russian pianist Kuryokhin -- while not particularly influential in America -- was nevertheless one of the most astoundingly gifted and original players to have ever played jazz, in any country. Read elsewhere about his life story (he died a tragically premature death in 1996 at a young age); our concern here is a review of this, a reissue of his remarkable first album. A relic from 1981, when Russia was still the Soviet Union and playing free jazz in that country was almost literally a crime, this solo recording was paradoxically first released by Melodia, the state's official record label. The record documents an amazing talent, who, had he been born in America, would probably have been widely considered one of the greatest free jazz pianists ever (he is anyway, regardless of perception). Kuryokhin had an almost supernatural technique, his lines are played as quickly and are as sharply articulated as those of any pianist this side of Art Tatum. Reminiscent of Cecil Taylor (as ultimately it seems all free jazz pianists must be, to an extent) and perhaps Glenn Gould (in terms of touch), Kuryokhin nevertheless sounds like no one but himself. Occasionally he plays so fast with such clarity, one is tempted to believe that the tape's been sped up. He's an obsessive pianist, worrying over and embellishing small motives until they've given all there is to give. He has a marvelously percussive attack and a bracing sense of rhythm; the piano is a set of 81 tuned drums in his hands, played with great subtlety and depth of feeling. Kuryokhin extends conventional technique as well -- he's not afraid to go inside and pluck and strum the instrument's innards, or tap and bang, drum-like, on its various surfaces. This album is rather strangely recorded -- the piano sounds a bit like a toy, as if the mics were positioned a bit off-axis. Kuryokhin renders the odd sound irrelevant. The album isn't perfect; the artist's formal sense was not very sophisticated, at least at this early stage of his development. His idea of form was mainly to explore one idea until its possibilities were exhausted, then move on to the next. Nevertheless, his profound imagination and skills as a pianist win the day. This is an incredible document and shouldn't be missed by any serious student of avant-garde piano.

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