[Dixielandjazz] Russian Jazz - NY Times Review

Stephen Barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Sat Sep 20 10:26:58 PDT 2003

Just a touch of OKOM in this article, a reference to "cartoon music"
jazz and Duke Ellington etc. Jazz lives in Russia.

Steve Barbone

September 20, 2003 - N.Y. Times


Marsalis and His Russian Counterpart


    Jazz suggests a spectrum of artistic dispositions, and musicians all
over the world take from it whatever suits their own temperaments. Some
choose vulnerability. Some choose concentration. Some choose
restlessness. And some, like the Russian saxophonist Igor Butman, choose

Mr. Butman occupies a position in Russia roughly comparable to that of
Wynton Marsalis, the artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center. He is
an adaptable, highly skilled practitioner, and jazz's most appealing
popularizer there. Born the same year as Mr. Marsalis, 1961, he studied
at Berklee College of Music in Boston during his late 20's and lived in
New York briefly before returning to Russia. There he has led a big
band, owned a Moscow jazz club and acted as host of a television

The two musicians have played together a number of times in Russia, and
to open a new season of Jazz at Lincoln Center concerts with an
international theme, Mr. Marsalis invited Mr. Butman's entire big band
to play alongside his own at Alice Tully Hall.

That's literally alongside: two big bands on one stage, set up as mirror
images. On Thursday night, the bands occasionally played at the same
time, but more often passed the music back and forth. It was a neat
trick, and clearly they had had enough rehearsal time to make it work.
(The concert will be repeated tonight.)

As an improviser, Mr. Butman is as much of a crowd-pleaser as Mr.
Marsalis: he stormed through his brawny post-bop solos, even on his slow
ballad "Nostalgia," showing a magnetic confidence. But Mr. Marsalis also
plays with idiosyncrasy and a stubborn humor; Mr. Butman held his in
check. Introducing a piece called, in English translation, "Waterskis,"
he explained that jazz musicians in Russia of his generation had
absorbed a lot of jazz from television cartoon themes. (The piece he
went on to play was an arrangement of one: a careening tone poem.) And
in his case, at least, you could understand their appeal, because
something of the tenacious, all-out entertainment aesthetic from 60's
television pervaded his music.

It was a show of great competence and fluency: a couple of the Russian
band's star musicians, including the baritone saxophonist Alexander
Dovgopoly and the trumpeter Artem Kovalchuk, played beautiful,
hard-charging solos, thoroughly within the time, tonality and gestural
language of mainstream, postwar big bands. This was dense, well-wrought
music: the moody harmonic motion of the reed section within the larger
group, in Vitaly Dolgov's arrangement of Tchaikovsky's "Waltz of the
Flowers," sounded like Ellington ideas embedded within the hard, brassy
shell of Maynard Ferguson's big band.

Though Russian folk melodies were used in two numbers, no rustic
qualities remained; these were jumbo-jet versions, with dueling soloists
from each band pitted against each other, each one standing on his own
side amid his seated colleagues, like opposite goal posts. This sort of
thing was nicely done: toward the end of Ellington's up-tempo blues
"Ready, Go," the two tenor saxophonists from each band stood up and
began improvising collectively, slowly increasing the intensity, with
nothing to back them but the band and audience clapping. The audience
gave them what they were looking for.

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