Released by Love Slave Records, this eponymous disc by Tridruga presents a three-way collaboration featuring guitarist Brad Shepik, bassist Tony Scherr, and accordionist Yuri Lemeshev sharing the spotlight, recorded in 1998 before the Russian-born Lemeshev joined Gypsy punk outfit Gogol Bordello. GB fans know Lemeshev is quite a character, a serious accordionist who circa the late '90s had also cultivated a somewhat zany presence in New York City's East Village by donning a wild assortment of hats and wigs and mugging -- quite entertainingly -- for his audiences during bistro performances. Lemeshev's mastery of Russian and Eastern European folk and folk-influenced classical accordion music, rather than his headgear, was no doubt what brought him to the attention of Shepik and reedman Matt Darriau, musicians widely recognized for incorporating Eastern European and Asian influences into their creative jazz pursuits. Lemeshev could be considered an accordion traditionalist compared with avant figures of the era such as Guy Klucevsek and Andrea Parkins, but he was hip enough to sit in with Shepik and Darriau during Paradox Trio gigs at New York's Knitting Factory club and finally to merit equal partnership with downtown jazz veterans Shepik and Scherr on Tridruga, before going on to achieve Gogol Bordello-sized attention. A collection of tunes drawing from both folk and jazz traditions, Tridruga is brightly recorded yet filled with the warmth of a close conversation. It is easy to imagine the trio performing beside the hearth of a cottage on Sakhalin, the Russian island north of Japan where Lemeshev lived before moving to New York. Shepik plays acoustic nylon-stringed guitar throughout, strumming in rhythmic accompaniment or matching Lemeshev's fleet-fingered single-note accordion runs. Further folk authenticity is provided by Scherr's contrabass balalaika, the lowest-tuned version of the familiar Russian and Eastern European three-stringed lute. Scherr has a masterful touch whether laying down a deep pulse beneath his bandmates or stating a theme in the forefront, as on Shepik's brooding "One Hundred Years." Lemeshev and Shepik split the group's composing credits, and both wrote lovely melodies and chord sequences framing heartfelt improvisations. A yearning quality imbues many of the tunes, as evidenced by titles such as Lemeshev's "Wind Cries" and Shepik's "Forgotten Island." (The sprightly "Potato Head" reveals Lemeshev's lighter compositional side.) Modern Russian composer Alfred Schnittke's (a Lemeshev favorite) "Main Theme from the 'Little Tragedies'" is the CD's final track; it is a darkly beautiful rendition, understated yet dramatic, and a fitting conclusion for the recording. "Tridruga" translates as "three friends," and Lemeshev, Shepik, and Scherr possess an empathy that aptly suggests years of musical camaraderie. The listener feels privileged to be drawn into their intimate circle.
AllMusic Review by Dave Lynch