Misha Alperin: Her First Dance (ECM 1995)

Her First Dance

Misha Alperin
Her First Dance

Misha Alperin piano
Arkady Shilkloper French horn, flugelhorn
Anja Lechner violoncello
Recorded July 2006, Auditorio Radio Svizzera, Lugano
Engineer: Stefano Amerio
Produced by Manfred Eicher

After a decade-long absence, Russian pianist-composer Misha Alperin returns to ECM with his most fragrant release to date. He retains cellist Anja Lechner from the last session, Night, and rejoins his longtime ally, horn player Arkady Shilkloper. The deeper (if only for being the oldest) relationship of the two is with Shilkloper, who since 1990’s Wave Of Sorrow has been a constant companion throughout Alperin’s ECM tenure. In fact, the only piece not by Alperin on this album, “The Russian Song,” flows from Shilkloper’s pen in a lovingly arpeggiated duet for French horn and cello, with no piano between them. The remaining pieces comprise a mixed palette of solos, duos, and one trio. The latter, “Tiflis,” again features French horn, only now working a mournful charge between cells of piano and cello. It’s a stunning, lyrical voyage that works its subtle ways into the mind.

Of Alperin’s piano solos the listener is treated to a wide variety. From the tintinnabulations of “Vayan” (which veers down unexpected avenues of twilight) to the sprightly virtuosity of “Jump,” each is a transfiguration, a whirling dervish of melody. Eyes closed and heart open, Alperin passes, ghost-like, through the tenderness of “April In February” and the Bach-like grandiosity of “Via Dolorosa” with equal attention, such that each becomes a waterfall droplet made audible through slow motion.

Piano and flugelhorn make for a profound combination in the title track. Here the keyboard is distant, and the music all the more intimate because of it, as if it were being played in a chamber of the mind, personal and untouched by the outside. There is a spin and a sway to this tune, fleshed by the childhood implied by its title, by the magic of kindness that pulls flowers from the soil before the world at large can paint them with words.

Piano and cello make two somber appearances. “A New Day” turns like a ballerina in a music box, Alperin dotting the edges of Lechner’s spinal lines with light impulses of grace, while “Frozen Tears” breathes cinematic reality through a steady pulse and wavering foreground.

Together, these vignettes boil down to a beauteous representation of Alperin’s diction. Secure and sparkling, it speaks as it lives: which is to say, from the heart.

Misha Alperin: Night (ECM 1769)

Night

Misha Alperin
Night

Anja Lechner cello
Hans-Kristian Kjos Sørensen percussion, marimba, voice
Misha Alperin piano, claviola
Recorded April 4, 1998 at Vossa Jazz Festival, Norway
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Atmospherically speaking, Misha Alperin has created some of ECM’s most haunting discs. In the wake of one such disc, At Home, the Ukrainian pianist-composer surprises with yet another unexpected turn of events. The event in question is the commissioned performance at the 1998 VossaJazz Festival in Norway documented here. The end result is a new beginning, a flowering of innovation and sensory breadth.

With German cellist Anja Lechner and Norwegian percussionist Hans-Kristian Kjos Sørensen in tow, Alperin’s keys open the curtain with “Tuesday,” and in that Everest shape reveal the touch of two bows: one at Lechner’s strings, the other humming along the edge of Sørensen’s cymbals. As the trio settles into a spiral of sleep, regularities begin to emerge. Thus welcomed into the performance, one can note the figural language that is Alperin’s forte. His body arches, conforms to what is being played. His physicality comes out especially in “Tango,” which fronts his sweet descriptions before delicate snare rolls and legato support from Lechner, the latter switching to pizzicato to buoy every footnote. After a duet between Lechner and Alperin (the tender “Adagio,” which absorbs breath in lieu of exhale), the dotted marimba of “Second Game” counters with some delightful surprises. From the persuasive beauty of its Steve Reichean introduction to jocular turns and thematic quick-changes that recall The Carnival of the Animals of Saint-Saëns, it encompasses a thousand positive memories. These render the quiet spirit of “Dark Drops” all the subtler. The title track is evocation par excellence, weaving cricketing percussion through a loom of moonlight. Timpani and strained vocals make for some unusual effects in “Heavy Hour,” a ritual thesis of howling abandon. The suite concludes with “Far, Far…,” which carries us beyond the implied “away” to a place where lullabies alter the sky as would a luthier achieve a perfect curve of tiger maple.

Night is a topographical palate. From hills to caves, cliffs and open fields, it is a regression to the womb, a reverie of cloud-shift and prenatal lightning. Like etcher’s acid, it renders its images in reverse, righted when printed on the mind.

Misha Alperin: At Home (ECM 1768)

At Home

Misha Alperin
At Home

Misha Alperin piano
Recorded at home by Misha Alperin, February 1998
Edited and mastered at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Album produced by Manfred Eicher

Misha Alperin has been something of a shadowy presence in the annals of ECM. His previous albums—namely, Wave Of Sorrow, North Story, and First Impression—marked him as an enigmatic musician of sparse yet effective language, at times of humor and gaiety. But if you want to know how the Ukrainian-born pianist’s heart beats, the forms his dreams take, let At Home be your looking glass. The aching lyricism of the title track, which opens this collection of improvised pieces, is all you need to know what’s going on: a private, reflective session surrounded by Alperin’s most familiar things. Recorded at his home in Norway, where he has lived for the past two decades, the program unfolds in a mosaic portrait of the artist in various stages of emotional awareness.

Remarkable about this album (and true also of Keith Jarrett’s Facing You) are the levels of evocation sustained throughout. It’s as if Alperin were letting himself fall and trusting in the piano strings to catch him in their net. It is inspiring to experience such breaking down of hesitations—to feel, for example, the subterranean forces of “Nightfall” digging so deep it almost hurts to imagine their visceral impact. In “Shadows” Alperin makes use of space as a brush artist would of ink, expressing much with little. Intermittent clusters and arpeggiated phrases share the piano’s natural resonance, stretching phonemes into the speech of “10th of February.” It is the album’s most figural piece, contrasting a circular left hand with a circling right: a night flight of unfathomable scope in under five minutes. Behind the winged structures of “The Wind” thrive unlived pasts, histories beyond the ken of the hermetic performer at the keyboard, lives whose implications are decades yet in knowing.

The album is not without its whimsy. A Norwegian folk dance provides the inspiration for “Halling,” which might have felt out of place in the program were it not for the integrity of its spirit. “Light” and “Game” bring further playfulness to the fore, in the former offsetting potentially ominous chords and in the latter rummaging through a toy chest of childhood relics. With these Alperin creates sparkling vignettes, one after another, until the outtake of “Njet” chambers the parent calling to the child, the husband to the partner, flowing down the hallways into light.

Misha Alperin w/John Surman: First Impression (ECM 1664)

First Impression

First Impression

Misha Alperin piano
John Surman soprano and baritone saxophones
Arkady Shilkloper French horn, flugelhorn
Terje Gewelt double-bass
Jon Christensen drums
Hans-Kristian Kjos Sørensen percussion
Recorded December 1997 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Ukrainian pianist and composer Misha Alperin joins forces for the first time in session with British reedist John Surman (a last-minute replacement for Tore Brunborg) in this melodious, spontaneous set. Augmented by Arkady Shilkloper on French horn and flugelhorn, Terje Gewelt on bass, and Jon Christensen on drums, their hypnotic nexus breathes ounces of thematic life into the “Overture” in watery, stepwise motion. Surman’s reptilian soprano takes us in some unexpected directions throughout a holistic introduction, while his unmistakable baritone threads resilient cables through “Twilight house” and “City Dance.” The first of these is where the session truly comes to life through his interactions with Alperin, while the latter serves a touch of groove in a veritable trill buffet (think Snakeoil). “Movement” features classical percussionist Hans-Kristian Kjos Sørensen (heard previously on No Birch) in a spindly improv, the pointillism and melancholy draw of which only thinly veil its composed undercurrent. A lovely solo from Shilkloper on French horn rises like a paper lantern lit and offered to the sky.

Yet these are but the roofing to the album’s five “Impressions,” each a pillar in the dust. Most of these are latticed pieces in chambered combinations, achieving darkest patina in “Second Impression,” in which Surman’s soprano dances like a wick-hugging flame, and whispering new beginnings in “Fifth Impression.” Neither is as intimate as the title track, in its way a profound one. In printing terms, the first impression is always the most crisp, the most sought after, but here we get something so ephemeral that it hardly seems to stick to the page. In its solo piano expanse is something metaphysical, a catch of moonlight in the mind.

Misha Alperin: North Story (ECM 1596)

Misha Alperin
North Story

Misha Alperin piano
Arkady Shilkloper French horn, flugelhorn
Tore Brunborg tenor saxophone
Terje Gewelt double-bass
Jon Christensen drums
Recorded September 1995 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Simultaneously drawing on his folk roots and paying homage to European jazz music’s openness to cross-cultural dialogue, Ukraine-born pianist and composer Misha Alperin gives us North Story, his paean to the selfsame region where fermented the vivid contributions already so well documented on ECM. Classically trained brass player Arkady Shilkloper, who became acquainted after hearing snatches of Alperin at practice from an open apartment window, joins the group on French horn and flugelhorn. Saxophonist Tore Brunborg, bassist Terje Gewelt, and drummer Jon Christensen round out the quintet. And what a quintet it is, for it is quite clear that this set of eight originals positively glistens under the breath, feet, and fingers of master craftsmen. That being said, the rewards require patience and an invested heart. Alperin’s painterly ways move as if in slow motion, taking in details and finding even more within them. Everything in the light of “Morning” takes shape by contrast, so that what may seem at first sluggish blossoms in hindsight of Alperin’s delicate fortitude. Shilkloper follows similarly delicate arcs in the two-part “Psalm” and “Ironical Evening,” each a prize of organic denouement so fine that it passes through fishermen’s nets unnoticed. The title track gives us a deeper version of the same, Christensen building his tracings into full-blown sketches as Brunborg’s erases in swaths of negative space. “Alone” finds Alperin just so in a lulling piano solo, providing reprieve from fitful slumber on the way to “Etude,” a lovely duet with Shilkloper that sounds like a lost track from Wave Of Sorrow. Its skittering lines and virtuosic doubling concretize the storytelling. This leaves only an arrangement of “Kristi Blodsdråper (Fucsia)” by Norwegian composer Harald Sæverud (1897-1992). It is a fitting epilogue to an album of ever-growing detail, which like the whole becomes a mirror as we back away from it, sounds blending into an all-encompassing hush of existence.


Alternate cover

Misha Alperin/Arkady Shilkloper: Wave Of Sorrow (ECM 1396)

 

Misha Alperin
Arkady Shilkloper
Wave Of Sorrow

Misha Alperin piano, melodica, voice
Arkady Shilkloper French horn, jagdhorn, fluegelhorn, voice
Recorded July 1989 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

With Wave Of Sorrow, Misha (then Mikhail) Alperin began what has proven to be a fruitful relationship with ECM. Though the Ukraine-born pianist has but a modest discography on the label, each recording brims with the folklore of his sensitivity. Since this date he has spun a telepathic relationship with trumpeter Arkady Shilkloper, and the results on this duo album are as unique as their players. Alperin offers a set of ten original compositions, each, in spite of the intimate arrangement, a grand and sweeping thing. Not unlike label mate Richie Beirach, his architecture is ambitious in its scope and clarity yet rarely deviates from the warm embrace that births it. One hears this in the opening “Song,” to which Shilkloper adds the bay of a hunting horn. Like many of the pieces that follow, it smacks of tradition even as it shines with modern interpretation. Yet this is also a world of shadows, for in the title piece (one of the most affecting melodica solos you will ever hear) we can intuit a web of tortured histories and only hints of the happiness that may unravel it. Shilkloper arrives toward the end bathed in ECM’s plush reverb, seeming to hang from the tail of Alperin’s breathy comet like a child of the night. Still, this date is not without its fun. “Unisons,” for example, casts the two musicians in a decidedly vocal mold as they rap and tap their way through a cathartic romp. “Poem” similarly allows Shilkloper to come out of his lyrical shell into a full-blown dance. Alperin also offers up a few piano solos, of which “Prelude in Bb minor” is the most evocative—a shaft of moonlight through which the dust of a wanderer’s journey casts its sparkle. Other highlights include the simple yet ingenious motivic arcs of “Short Story” and Shilkloper’s distant mutes in “Miniature.”

The contradiction of the album’s title is that so much of the music springs to its feet, all the while harboring a matrix of oppression and exile. We hear this especially in the solo “Epilogue.” The atmosphere is dim yet also sparkling, as if it were a harsh present slumbering behind the illusory veil of a memory, fond and forever lost.