GANELIN TRIO/SLAVA GANELIN — Live In East Germany (aka Catalogue) (review)

GANELIN TRIO/SLAVA GANELIN — Live In East Germany (aka Catalogue) album cover Live album · 1980 · Avant-Garde Jazz Buy this album from MMA partners
4/5 ·
snobb
It's quite paradoxical that Ganelin Trio, most probably the only European band which played free jazz by the same way and on the same level of creativity and virtuosity as genre's American leaders, have deep Eurasian roots. Founded in early 70s in Vilnius, capital city of then Russians occupied Lithuania, it included three emigrants from Russia motherland.

Band's leader pianist and composer Vyacheslav (Slava) Ganelin was born in a family of Russian Jews not far from Moscow in the end of WWII and moved to occupied Vilnius with his parents being 4 years old boy. Sax player Vladimir Chekasin born in Sverdlovsk (now - Yekaterinburg), Ural's industrial town right on the border between Europe and Asia. He graduated as classic clarinet artist in his hometown conservatory and moved to Vilnius already being young perspective musician at 24. Drummer Vladimir Tarasov comes from Russian sub-Arctic city of Archangelsk, important Russian Navy port in the Far North, where he played jazz in local clubs still being teenager. At 19 he started music studies in St. Petersburg Conservatory but has been dismissed same year because of propaganda of jazz(!).He didn't return to Archangelsk but moved to Vilnius, where he started playing jazz with pianist Ganelin in legendary Vilnius' "Neringa" restaurant.

So, in year 1971 in Vilnius, town where I was born and grew up (ok, I was only 8 years old boy in 1971), three future avant-garde jazz giants founded the trio which influenced all Lithuanian jazz scene for decades ahead. For outsiders, it's almost impossible to imagine in what world trio's music was born. As a century before that Russian Empire banned the use of Lithuanian language in a territory of occupied Lithuania in any form,other than spoken word (i.i. books,newspapers,schools and University education on Lithuanian all were under the ban), their successors Soviet Empire banned on all controlled territories any forms of Western culture, different than some classical music. Rock music was a main target as it sounded as a right danger for Communist regime, jazz (since there as rule is no lyrics) was classified as "rotten Capitalism" propaganda and was under pressure and strict control as well. Vilnius (besides of Tallinn in Estonia, another Russian occupied European country) was a true mecca for semi-underground jazz since the town during Soviet rule became a quite isolated place, kind of sleepy province far from Moscow and Leningrad where everything was under strict control of KGB eyes. There in Lithuania of that period even existed a jazz studies in State Conservatory (established not in capital Vilnius, but in Klaipeda - smaller town 300 km west on Baltic coast, even more far from Big Brother's eyes).

So, there were some fresh air for jazz musicians in Vilnius with possibility to play in restaurants, Universities halls and even on local radio/TV in rare cases. From other hand, Vilnius was in same isolation from internal world (read - world outside of USSR) as any other place in Empire of Evil. There was no possibility to buy jazz recordings or to hear modern jazz played on radio (rare exception was a Polish radio often plying pop jazz, it was possible to hear it in Vilnius). The only source of musical news was a contraband vinyls coming from West which were extremely rare, banned and as a result unbelievable expensive (to buy one I often needed to pay my young graduate engineer two weeks' salary).

There were active exchange of used vinyl and home-made tapes between musicians and jazz fans as well which often was main sources of any new information. In that atmosphere three young musicians with classical music education and underground street-wise new jazz information started playing music never heard here before. As a result, Ganelin Trio,especially on early stage, sounded as fresh and unexpected European version of Art Ensemble of Chicago: they played lot of instruments (often sounding as much bigger combo than real trio) mixing American free jazz with their classic music formal roots and in part Russian folklore.

There are lot of recordings coming from late 70s - early 80s recorded by trio, but almost all of them are bootleg level live tapes, smuggled through the border and released in UK by another Russian Jew emigre in UK Leo Feigin on his Leo records. "Live In East Germany" is a good example of such release - rare foreign gig (recorded in Eastern Germany), as usually - one long composition divided on two vinyl sides. Trio sounds as much bigger band (Ganelin even plays some distorted guitars closer to the end of the gig, Chekasin plays multiple saxophones simultaneously), there is lot of freedom, lot of melodies, hyper-energy of their live shows and lot of humor and circus as well.

All music sounds fresh and unexpected and surprisingly well organized what evidences classical musicians' education. Don't be fulled by the year of the concert - because of Iron Curtain free jazz came to this part of Europe much later and there are one of very early evidences of it. Taking in account the time correction because of political reasons, they are as fresh as US free jazz of mid 60s.

One great (and for many jazz fans unexpectable) music, it is easier acceptable now because of some re-issues around. Ganelin left for Israel in 1987 disbanding the trio, he teaches music in Lithuanian Music and Theater Academy and plays regular concerts in Vilnius till now. Chekasin teaches in same Academy and runs students big band, Tarasov switched towards avant-garde audio-visual arts, one can hear/see his new installations regularly.
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