Rifftides reader Svetlana Ilyicheva (pictured right) brings us up to date from time to time on musical events in and around Moscow. Her latest report concerns an organization founded by and for jazz listeners, and one of its concerts by an unusual group.
Recently, the Moscow ‘Jazz Art’ Club celebrated the closing session of its 20th concert season. The club has presented nearly 1,500 weekly concerts, to say nothing of its vocal festivals and fascinating jazz cruises. There is much for the club to remember and be proud of, but the proudest fact about it is that it has had lots of devoted regulars from the very moment of its founding in 1994. Its president for all those years has been the devoted jazz lover and writer Alexander Eydelman.
The Jazz café Esse (seen here during an earlier concert) was full for an unusual, exotic, program called Harp & Jazz. The leaders are 29-year-old multi-instrumentalist and composer Anton Kotikov and harpist Maria Kulakova. With them are Evgeniy Stepanov (bass guitar), Ilya Verizhnikov (percussion) and, as special guest on violin and vocals, Anna Chekasina, the daughter of Vladimir Chekasin of the renowned Ganelin Trio.
The program was very skilfully compiled, with gradual introduction of instruments. First Maria performed “Misty” and the sounds of the harp intensified the romance of this evergreen magic tune by Erroll Garner. The concert included jazz standards, original pieces and virtuosic solos by Kotikov on saxophones, flute and even duduk (an Armenian wind instrument). The audience met all of that, and the delicate and precise work by the rhythm section, with enthusiastic cries, whistling and hearty ovations. A great master of benevolent whistling is the perpetually re-elected vice-president of the club, Rafael Avakov. Among the pieces was one that has become a favorite of Russian audiences, as it has around the world.
The acoustic harp, as a rule, is used in orchestras and chamber ensembles to perform classical and academic music. In the jazz world, the interesting sound of this noble instrument is considered exotic and is seldom used. Alice Coltrane comes to mind. Saxophonist Kotikov and harpist Kulakova created the Harp & Jazz project at the music school where they teach. The school is named for the composer, conductor and educator Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov (1959-1935). The project is unique in Russia. In concert, the instrumental lineup varies from duets by sax and harp to the full ensemble. The band plays at a variety of clubs and concert halls in Moscow. Ms. Kulakova sometimes employs the Celtic harp beloved by Russia’s many folk-rock fans. Nonetheless, the instrument also gets a lively response from jazz fans and the public at large.
The Harp & Jazz Project is working on a debut album and preparing a program for their tour of Sicily in November.