DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

Ganelin Trio Priority – Live (2005-2006)

The free jazz trio is back with the top saxist in Lithuanian jazz and a versatile German drummer, and continuing its unique position in European improvisational music.

Published on June 18, 2007

Ganelin Trio Priority – Live (2005-2006)
Ganelin Trio Priority – Live (2005-2006)

Performers: Vyacheslav Ganelin, piano/synth/percussion; Petras Vysniauskas, alto & soprano sax; Klaus Kugel, drums & percussion
Recorded live at the Lithuanian National Philharmony, Vilnius
Studio: Nemu Records LC14164
Video: 4:3 full screen color
Audio: PCM stereo
No region code
Length: 1:27:19
Rating: ****

The original Ganelin Trio, founded by Lithuanian jazz pianist Vyacheslav Ganelin, boldly played avantgarde free jazz in the Baltic states as well as the Soviet Union and all over the Eastern Block. Such unlimited free expression in music was frowned on by the authorities, and eventually the trio dissolved.  Now it’s back with the top saxist in Lithuanian jazz and a versatile German drummer, and continuing its unique position in European improvisational music.

Just as European jazz in general differs from American jazz, the Ganelins’ free jazz is not the sort of thing one hears from Sun Ra or the Art Ensemble of Chicago. (Although the Trio replicates the latter’s practice of dispersing the percussion roles thruout the ensemble.)  Beginning with saxist Joe Harriott in the late 1950s, European free jazz has generally had more fluid ensemble interaction, more connections with the heritage of the classical music world as well as world ethnic music, and a pulling back from jazz traditions. In Europe it is now more frequently referred to as free improvisation rather than free jazz. 

The Ganelin Trio often forges ahead without set pieces at all, titling them afterwards, as with the three extended selections in this live video. They are: Conversation I, Conversation II & Homage to Friends. The stage and hall are rather small, reminding me of a high school auditorium. Both visuals and audio are of the highest quality. Pianist Ganelin has a Korg synthesizer on top of the folded-down music stand of his Yamaha grand, and begins most of the selections with a basic, fairly tonal theme played with one hand on the Korg.  He then begins to add piano accompaniment, drummer Kugel comes in, and finally saxist Vysniauskas starts working on the building block of the stated theme.  The Trio slowly builds the theme into a spontaneous forceful structure of massive size and sound which adheres to its own special language, but creates a similar effect to the development of a theme in a cyclical-style symphony.  For the third piece – Homage to Friends – an additional drum set surrounds pianist Ganelin, and he sometimes plays them with one hand while the other is on the piano keyboard, making for more interesting visual display as well as musical.

I surprised myself by staying with the entire concert and found it most enjoyable, although I’m not a fan of free jazz. I believe a major factor was the absence of the funk and soul music element in the music and the similarity of some of the improvisations to classical new music.  Also, all three players are obviously superb at what they do.

 – John Henry

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