Friday, December 21, 2012

Alex Rostotsky «A Swan Is Swimming By» (ArtBeat, 2012)

Alex Rostotsky’s discography is the most impressive in Russian jazz: he has more than 25 albums under his belt as composer, producer, and performer at the same time. But it is not just sheer volume that is important. Every next Rostotsky’s recording features a new concept, a new stylistic turn, new sound, new partners, and new approach. Electric bassist, keyboards player, vocalist, composer, arranger – it is hard to say what is his main role; therefore his works stand apart from the bulk of Russian jazz recordings, as they are certainly not «like all others do.»

Rostotsky’s music works have a unique «globalized» focus. He fuses elements of different music cultures – those from Africa, India, Middle East, and Russia – with jazz rock, electronica, classical music influences, and jazz, not just within albums, but often within a single piece of music. This poly-cultural, or poly-ethnic, approach is natural in the world music idiom, but a rare feature in Russian jazz, while most of Alex’s musical partners are jazz musicians.

This compilation of Rostotsky’s recordings documents just one facet of his music’s poly-cultural approach. For «A Swan Is Swimming By» he chose from his 21st century records nine tracks with a focus on Russian music. Of course he had recorded more than nine tracks of Russian-influenced music: for an instance, his 2006 album, «Pictures At An Exhibition Or Promenade With Mussorgsky» (JBT/One records) consisted entirely of jazz readings from the great Russian classical composer’s book. But this compilation does not have any composer’s music in it – that is, other than Rostotsky’s; but all his compositions in this new album are based upon the melodies of Russian folk songs, and (in seven tracks out of nine) on the genuine folk lyrics.

One should not, however, seek in this music neither precise ethnographic documentation, nor simplified pop-folk approximation. Nothing is that simple here. Melodies and harmonies of Slavic folklore are easy to recognize, but they are cleverly combined with many other unlikely elements, such as electronic rhythms, or sharp Indian percussion, or quasi-classical symphony sounds, while all those elements are nailed together with prolonged improvisational statements which are, undoubtedly, jazz.

Most prominently, it is the work of Yuri Parfyonov that stands out. The trumpet and flugelhorn virtuoso was Rostotsky’s steady musical partner during the 2000s, bringing in Alex’s projects his expertise in oriental music: Parfyonov first came to prominence in 1970s Soviet jazz as the principal soloist in Bumerang, Uzbekistan-based jazz rock combo which added a lot of Central Asian spices in their own brand of fusion. Other strong jazz soloists in «A Swan Is Swimming By» are guitarist Pavel Chekmakovsky, tenor saxophonist Sergei Golovnya, and others.

But it is vocals that gives this album its special flavor. Classical singers Anna Sokolova and Elena Romanova, an entire chamber choir led by Vyacheslav Simonov, and spicy Indian voice of Indian tabla master Keshab Kanti Chowdhury all make different tracks to shine their different sound facets, but the most exotic element of the album’s sound is Rostotsky’s own singing voice. He has a certain vocal experience (he sung for years in an Orthodox Christian church choir, after all,) but his singing in this album does not play the standard vocal role: it is rather an integral part of the instrumental arrangement, as Alex more often sings through a vocoder than not – which adds his voice a strange shade of an exotic synthesized sound, either mystical, or romantic, or slightly ironical.

All this combined, the listener experiences an unusual whole, in which we can single out different elements of different styles and influences, but hardly we shall. This is not entirely jazz, entirely not rock, definitely not a study in ethnomusicology and not a stereotyped example of «world music» – it is just Alex Rostotsky’s music, as individual as it gets, and turned to the listener by its recognizably Russian side in this record.

Cyril Moshkow, editor, Jazz.Ru magazine

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