Monday, March 31, 2008

Spaso House is a beautiful old building, an early 19th century noble's city mansion in downtown Moscow; for the last 75 years, it is also the U.S. ambassador's residence (not the same as American embassy, which is about a mile away.) Every time somebody would bring a significant American artist to Russia, the U.S. ambassador would give a reception at the Spaso House, and the artist would perform in front of some three hundred "dignitaries" (if you pardon my French) -- U.S. embassy officials (the ambassador and his wife or girlfriend would sit in the middle of the front row,) prominent American expats working in Moscow, plus Muscovite mass media people, a dozen or so local artists from the same field as the artist on the stage, and a bunch of local "beau monde" -- TV personalities, mass culture producers, Duma (Russian parliament) members, all of them with their +1's, etc. Some of the crowd mean business and not only eat nice buffet-style hors d'oeuvres after the proformance, but also socialize with each other and/or with the Americans.
Today it was Paul Winter with his Consort and the great Dmitry Pokrovski Ensemble. Even 12 years after Pokrovski himself passed away, the Ensemble is still the greatest Russian folk choir - ten singers who come as close to the authentic, down-to-earth Russian folklore as it's possible in the day and age when the very environment where the said folklore was existing before the 1917 revolution is now long gone, forgotten, damned and cursed, then cried for, bemoaned, but not revived -- because the old Russian village and its way of life, once the core feature of traditional Russian society, is now dead, period.
Dmitry Pokrovski Ensemble has nothing to do with jazz -- except that they were the first in Russia to perform with an American "world jazz" band (I mean Paul Winter Consort) 22 years ago, and what they did together was not a mechanical addition of jazzy solos and funky rhythm section to the core of Russian folk singing, but the kind of an entity that is way more than just the mechanical sum of its part -- the thing we call Magic, the thing that cannot be described just in pure musicology terms, the thing that takes your breath, and reminds you that you are not a machine that hears sound waves by its biological microphones called ears, you are a human being, you are so human that you can literally cry when they play and sing, God bless them.
They toured the U.S. back then, 25 cities in total, and only played two concerts in Moscow (and recorded the then-famed "Earthbeat", 1987 Grammy nominee.) Now's the time to bring it all back home: Paul Winter Consort and Dmitry Pokrovski Ensemble are now touring Russia, and they will perform at the Moscow International House of Music on April 10, and Paul just promised me an interview during their soundcheck on the 10th, and -- we were just happy to hear that music. Because it's more than "four American new age/world jazz musicians play along with a Russian folk choir." It's Music, man. It's music.

This is how it sounded 22 years ago ("Down in Belgorod", recorded in 1986, (c) Living Music/Melodiya, 1987) - now: subtract syntheziser, subtract bass guitar, add acoustic piano and bass; percussion replaces drum set; voices & sax still the same.
mp3 96 kbps, solely for educational purposes

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