On A Bicycle
Who Is It?
Prelude for Vibes
Get Up And Go
(All tunes composed by Neselovskyi)
(piano, melodica), Ronen Itzik (drums, precussion),
(bass), Sara Serpa (voice)*
Recorded Studio 1, Berklee College of Music, Boston MA, April 14 2016.
Ukranian born (in Odessa in 1977), Vadim Neselovski, who spent some of his
youth in Germany, is now based in New York. He is Professor of Jazz Piano
at Berklee College in Boston. He has worked extensively (as pianist,
composer and arranger) with Gary Burton.
Neselovskyi is highly literate, musically speaking, well-trained in the
classical tradition (indeed he studied composition at the Odessa Music
School from the age of 8). But he also has an affinity with blues and Latin
music as well as the modern mainstream of jazz. He has said that he thinks
of himself as “primarily a composer”, but he is also an impressive jazz
soloist, passionate and subtle in equal measure in his playing. His
technique and his wide musical knowledge seem always to be at the service
of his own ideas and emotions.
There is a strong sense of interplay and mutual trust amongst the members
of this trio, whether playing upbeat numbers like the opener ‘On A Bicycle’
(which presumably has some kind of relationship to the poem of the same
title – (in English at least) – by the Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko)
or ‘Station Taiga’, utterly different in mood, slower, and hauntingly
ethereal, not least because of the beautiful wordless vocal by the Portugese
singer Sara Serpa . The two tracks, in short, are utterly different;
that they both make very rewarding listening says much about both the
range of Neselovskyi’s writing and the empathetic skills of his trio.
Contrast, indeed, is clearly an important principle in the programming
of this CD. So, for example, ‘Winter’, a rich evocation of the bleak
and the chill is immediately succeeded by the altogether sunnier ‘San
Felio’ – I wonder if this title perhaps refers to the resort of Sant
Feliu de Guíxols on the Catalonian coast, given that ‘Station Taiga’
(an important junction on the West Siberian railway) suggests that Neselovskyi
has a fondness for titles (and tunes) which evoke places.
Perhaps the outstanding individual track is ‘Krai’, played by the pianist
alone. This is beautifully structured and is the most overtly ‘classical’
work here. Neselovskyi’s notes to the CD tell us something important about
this piece. On a day in June of 2014 the trio were due to play at Ukraine’s
major jazz festival in Lviv. Shortly before they went on stage, they and
the audience learned that a Ukrainian military plane had been shot down by
separatists. The trio scrapped the programme they had planned, and, writes
Neselovsky, ‘I started with a solo piece, Krai, that quotes an Orthodox
prayer’. ‘Krai’ is, indeed, as recorded here, deeply thoughtful, one might
even say prayerful, even if, like me, you don’t recognize the Orthodox
quotation. I suspect that the performance of ‘Krai’ is fully scored, with
little or no improvisation involved. Indeed, I’d suggest that it is a fine
enough piece to merit being taken up by some purely ‘classical’ pianists.
Titles can, of course, be misleading. ‘Get Up and Go’ I expected, from its
title, to be full of untroubled energy and vivacity, of pizzazz, even – all
energetic urban chic and glamour. But my first hearing made it clear that
this was not the case. It was only after this first hearing that I read the
booklet notes, and found the composer describing the tune as ‘a composition
of mine that deals with war, mourning and finding will power to overcome
the toughest moments in life’. And, indeed, this is a performance
which speaks of resilience and determination in the face of adversity (it
also features some unexpected, but strangely fitting, work on the melodica
Another memorable track is ‘Prelude for Vibes’, originally written for Gary
Burton (and recorded by him) which generates and sustains an attractively
dancing quality, while also finding room for some virtuosic playing by
Neselovskyi, though even his most dazzling runs never sound merely showy. I
suppose the pianist is the one musician here likely to become a big ‘name’,
though one shouldn’t underestimate the contributions of bassist Dan Loomis
(some of his bowed work is particularly effective) or the drummer, Ronen
Itzik, from Israel, who generates a straightforward swing when required,
while also responding to / articulating some complex rhythmic changes
elsewhere. For me, at least, as someone who treasures her duos with the
very individual pianist Ran Blake – Camera Oscura (2010) and Aurora (2012) the presence of Sara Serpa is a valuable bonus (even
if she is heard on just two tracks).
This beautiful, and emotionally substantial, album is highly recommended.