Poco a Poco
Strictly For Our Friends
The saga of The Ganelin Trio, an avant-garde jazz ensemble from the Soviet Union, was one of the most extraordinary stories of the late '70s and early '80s. Keyboardist Vyacheslav Ganelin, saxophonist Vladimir Chekasin and percussionist Vladimir Tarasov briefly captured the jazz world's attention through infrequent and highly policed tours, but more by far was the series of recordings smuggled samizdat style out of the Eastern bloc, and released by indefatigable booster Leo Feigin on his U.K.-based Leo label. The Trio burned incandescently for over a decade, fizzling out in the mid-'80s when Ganelin defected to the West and took up residence in Israel. All three remain active separately, but a spate of new reissues allows a fresh assessment of the group's achievements.
Poco a Poco, the first Ganelin CD released by Leo back in 1988, was reissued late last year in a limited edition of 500 copies. If you missed it the first time around, don't make the same mistake twice; this is not only one of the group's finest documents, but one of the most distinctive visions of post-'60s avant-garde jazz available. The disc presents a concert recorded in Novosibirsk in February 1978. The recording quality, as might be expected, is brittle and thin; these are, after all, "officially" unauthorized recordings. Still, it takes little effort to get used to the sound, and the quality of the performance far outweighs such a caveat.
Ganelin's music does not prove so very foreign to those with an affinity for the A.A.C.M., especially in its members' multi-instrumentalism and theatricality, and the Dutch avant-garde, with which the Trio shares a particularly European brand of whimsy and an informed thumbing of the nose at tradition. Tarasov's barreling drum assaults are reminiscent of Han Bennink's similar outbursts, but, like Bennink, Tarasov is capable of delicacy and can also swing mightily. Ganelin conflates stride, boogie, modern classical pianism and post-Taylor tumult into an impressive arsenal perfectly suited to the band's compression of decades of jazz history-and on occasion, native folk music-into the span of a show or even a single piece. And Chekasin, inscrutable and often seemingly detached, mines a vein not far removed from Roland Kirk or the Art Ensemble's reedmen Poco a Poco captures a vivid suite (the pieces are titled "Poco 1" through "Poco 11") that displays the band at its best, and if the element of visual theatricality is absent, it is scarcely missed.