The Ganelin Trio

Strictly For Our Friends
Golden Years of New Jazz / GY13

Vyacheslav Ganelin / piano, Vladimir Tarasov / drums, Vladimir Chekasin / reeds

This release restores to the catalogue a set recorded in Moscow during the same period which produced Poco-a-Poco and Con Fuoco (both also on Leo Records). Label boss Leo Feigin has suitably hair-raising tales to tell about getting the music from performance in the USSR to LP in London, but this music would be splendidly alive even without the high drama which surrounded its first release.

In a sense there are no surprises here. The quartet play eight untitled, jazzy compositions with a vigour which is almost frightening, even when the tempo is ostensibly that of a ballad — check out the fidgety, shuffling Tarasov, bringing the otherwise nocturnal fifth track to a dangerus simmer. They move easily from straight changes-playing through intense freedom into weird abstract soundscapes. “No surprises”, then, only in one sense; in another, their music is pure surprise, and it grabs your attention with every bar.

It’s true that, as the sleeve notes point out, this is a rather more lyrical offering than some of the trio’s more combative sets. Still, those expecting not to be jarred by the Ganelin Trio’s very own brand of rushing exuberance really ought to have bought something different, and these pieces certainly aren’t pedestrian. Whatever pressures the authorities might have placed jazz musicians under to be more acessible to the people or to compete with the mainstream players of the West, this trio always sounds entirely oblivious to it.

That in itself can make this music sound like a triumph of the human spirit (or some such), but in a sense that does the music itself no favours. Had these three come from New York, what they do would still be magnificent, and if it wouldn’t have had such a big impact that’s because the media loves a good story, something which helped an unknown avant garde jazz band who were a long way from home make a big splash in London when they finally visited.

None of that, however, should be allowed to detract from the music, which is as ecstatic and furiously inventive as ever. Far from being a grab-bag of extras for Ganelin completists, there’s nothing disposable here, and the set as a whole has very much its own pace and flavour. Richard Cochrane