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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Don Mather, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf, Glyn Pursglove


Songs from the Black Earth

Slam Records SLAMCD 277




1. Alone

2. Jacqueline Du Pré
3. Songs From The Black Earth
4. When The Saints Go Marching In
5. Village Music

6. Holywell Street
7. Pepís Home
8. Untitled Encore


Nick Vintskevitch - Soprano sax, alto sax
Leonid Vintskevitch - Piano
Steve Kershaw - Double bass
Petter Svard - Drums


A trio called Stekpanna has already established itself as an unusual force in jazz. It consists of a Danish guitarist, an English bassist and a Swedish drummer - respectively Mads Kjolby, Steve Kershaw and Petter Svard. While on tour, they encountered two Russian musicians - father and son Leonid and Nikolai "Nick" Vintskevitch = and found that they shared a forward-thinking attitude towards jazz. As a result they teamed up for concerts. Four of them also made this CD together, although guitarist Mads Kjolby was away playing guitar with the Danish Radio Big Band.

Having heard them playing together in concert, where they came across as a very dynamic group, I was rather surprised by the opening tracks on this CD, which are somewhat introverted. The first three tracks are all slow and tend towards sameness, with repetitive riffs on the piano and a strong focus on Nick Vintskevitch's mournful soprano sax. The bass and drums seem to have little to do. Certainly these tracks convey a sense of the wide open spaces of Russia (the home of the "black earth" of the title) but it was a mistake to programme three such sombre tracks at the start of the album. The main saving grace is Leonid Vintskevitch's piano tone, which is beautifully lucid. His delicate touch makes every note count.

Things get brighter for When the Saints Go Marching In, where the old trad warhorse is brushed down thoroughly to provide a jovial tongue-in-cheek interpretation which displays the quartet's ironical humour as well as its musical expertise. Nikolai's supple tenor solo is followed by a superbly adroit piano solo from father Leonid and a lilting drum solo from Petter, all underpinned and held together by Steve Kershaw's double bass.

Village Music again has lots of ostinato figures from the piano but it conveys the carefree (sometimes wild) atmosphere of a village dance. And Leonid's piano is amazing: playing the piano strings as well as its keys, and creating his own dazzling counterpoint between left and right hands. Holywell Street (presumably dedicated to an ancient thoroughfare in Oxford, where the group has often performed) is a piece which flows lyrically. Bass and drums both seem to be absent from this and the preceding track, unless they were just recorded very low down in the mix.

The bass and drums are well in evidence on Pep's Home, a catchy piece with beboppish bluesy overtones. Nikolai plays tenor sax here, which is usually easier on the ear than his occasionally piercing soprano. The closing Untitled Encore is another meditative piece which benefits from Nick's tenor sax and Leonid's fluent piano.

This album proves that the players are all masters of their instruments, with praise most deserved for the astonishingly gifted pianist Leonid Vintskevitch and the utterly dependable bassist Steve Kershaw. Let's hope their next album is recorded "live" - to capture the excitement they generate when giving concerts.

Tony Augarde





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