Review: Yuriy Galkin Nonet, Croydon

The Russian bassist offers "a refreshing antidote to the harmonically bereft punk-prog-indie inspired fare that unreasonably excites so many in the jazz (and, unsurprisingly, non-jazz) media" writes MARK GILBERT

George CrowleyThe audience only just outnumbered the band at the Arnhem Gallery on Friday, but the band made the most of its nine pieces, sounding often like a larger ensemble. It wasn't a typical or even regular jazz venue but an unprepossessing vault at the side of the Fairfield Halls made all the more cavernous by the small turnout. Never mind, Galkin says he had 80 or more at the Pizza Express and elsewhere.

In setting up this gig, Galkin was breaking new ground in a tour he'd arranged himself, even if contrary to many reports the music doesn't quite do so. Its originality is perhaps overstated, though I sense that Galkin doesn't agree. Doubtless however, he does bring a welcome straightahead mentality to new, young British jazz - a refreshing antidote to the harmonically bereft punk-prog-indie inspired fare that unreasonably excites so many in the jazz (and, unsurprisingly, non-jazz) media.

This was detailed, often pulsing music largely from Galkin's richly coloured new album Nine Of A Kind which has found an unlikely home on the often experimental F-IRE label; he did however add a piece written for his two-week-old son to the set. Overall, shades of Mingus, Woody Shaw, Chick Corea's late 1970s quartet and 1980s Steps Ahead (in the acoustic funk numbers) and Kenny Wheeler (in the ballads) came through. The most striking update on the influences was Galkin's employment of metric modulation, so that on some pieces thGavita, Fishwicke rhythm roller-coastered excitingly between swing and cut-time funk while soloists sailed on regardless.    

Galkin is mature (30 years, in fact) and his music sounds it, too - there's none of the jazz-college juvenilia one hears elsewhere in the UK today, though Galkin did attend the Royal Academy jazz course on a scholarship from Moscow. Before that he studied and is somewhat inspired by the Russian classical masters, so his precision, detail and fierce musical ambition are unsurprising. He also brings an engineer's exactitude to his work, having graduated from Russia's state aeronautical institute before committing full-time to music.

The band had several subs from the record, all doing sterling work and happily including two female players, one on piano, the other on baritone, soprano and bass clarinet. Outstanding solos came from trumpeters Freddie Gavita and Steve Fishwick (pictured above left) and from tenorist George Crowley (pictured above right), a Guildhall jazz graduate whose first degree was, amazingly, English Lit. His cool, oblique lines reminded often of the lineage from Coltrane to Chris Potter and Gavita's main solo in the second set skirted the modal backdrop with tantalising harmonic invention. Both men, like Kit Downes, come from the Norwich area - some teenagers around there evidently spent their time fruitfully in the early part of the decade.

Galkin pianoIt's a signal statement about British jazz - but a tale of our times perhaps - that migrants are showing locals the way to go, just as US bassist Michael Janisch has done in recent years. If Galkin's outlook and energy are sustained, he deserves to make a wider, international mark too. He should be valued while he's here. He might even inspire more UK jazz bands to grow up, fast.

Photos © Mark Gilbert


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