Reverberating poetry opens the title track of bassist Yuriy Galkin’s latest CD, “For Its Beauty Alone,” which trails off to allow a sax’s thoughtful musings, light but supportive percussion and an aptly colorful and sweet piano accompaniment.
Galkin is a Russian-born composer and musician, now living in and embracing the NYC music scene. He presents an eclectic variety of tracks here, like the quickly moving “Shifting Sands” whose tension is abruptly released, leaving you wanting more. His own bass provides a satisfying gravity in “Camera Obscura” which has its opposite in the higher register sax in search of a melody. When the song veers into some experimental electronica the question becomes what will he do to pull it all together. Yet listeners don’t need to worry as this composer is adroit in always bringing his musical ideas home.
What’s perhaps most interesting about this album is that with a small group Galkin is able to create many different moods and effects through the use of unexpected rhythms, jarring chord changes that somehow work and compositions that strongly resemble human conversations.
Why the bass?
I was born into a musical family and was trained as a classical pianist from an early age, so that helped a lot and I certainly had a solid background before I entered the “bass avenue”, so to speak.
I started on the electric bass around 1996-97 on a whim actually – there was an old and crappy Soviet-made bass guitar – how one of my teachers used to say, “most likely made from a furniture factory” – that was lying about at some cultural center of the post-Soviet era, that I took home and started to mess around with. In less than a month I became good enough to join a local rock band in which I didn’t stay long.
Have you been influenced by classical music from Russia?
I indeed was. I still listen to Russian classical music, particularly its 20th Century period. If you study classical music in Russia, your main source will be Russian music. Nationalism there is rather strong. People fail to open their eyes and ears to a broader range of music, in my view. And then of course all that Soviet era madness with subdividing the music on “right” and “wrong”, proletarian-friendly and capitalist evil and so on.
In spite of that, many people were “hungry” for these missing cultural elements. When young Glenn Gould came to perform in Soviet Union in 1957, he introduced the audience to modern and unknown at that time in Russia composers, such as Schoenberg and Krenek, and people were listening to him like an alien from another planet. The concert halls were packed. It was indeed a historically remarkable tour, in my opinion, that touched, and probably changed, thousands of lives.
What turned you on to jazz?
Although I came to jazz in 1998 – well, after the collapse of the “Evil Empire” –it was still an art of rebellion. I was also grabbed by the energy, soul and aliveness of this music, its beauty and diversity, and the endless possibilities jazz offered to develop as a musician.
Back in the Soviets, music-wise, they fed us the regimen propaganda, one way or the other, until the 1990’s, but then it took time to re-build what was lost in the previous decades. An average person back then could not hear jazz or read about it in the media or anywhere else and the genre per se was either blocked or some funny pop stuff with horns arrangements was sold as jazz. Now, that may have worked for many, but creative and searching minds sooner or later started wondering “what if” – that is how jazz survived behind the Iron Curtain, thanks to a certain group of musicians and enthusiasts. There was an underground jazz scene too. And so, as a teenager, I played in rock bands for a very short while, but soon started to feel restrained and was looking for something more engaging and long-term. I didn’t want to go back to classical music at that point, but instead turned myself to jazz and never looked back.
What do you like most about having a solo?
I actually play less solo on the bass than I used to, I feel like I can say more through the composition itself – structure, interaction and concept – these things interest me the most these days. Even when I do a solo bass piece – like the one you hear on the album – it is to recreate a certain sound and atmosphere. As a matter of fact, the biggest compliment I had so far is that one can’t say that it is a “bass player’s record”. But I like to play a bass solo too in a more “traditional” way every now and then – it is still a way of self-expression to me, although I use space and tonal qualities of the sound more these days.
Do you feel the bass has a limited range or do you like to engage the full capabilities of the instrument?
Well, first and foremost, bass is far from having a small range and Bottesini’s and Koussevitzky’s concertos proved that long before we all were born. Second, not that long ago, maybe back in 1990’s onwards, at least when I started to take interest in it, there was a fashion with 5/6-string basses, 24 frets etc (if we’re talking about electric basses), so it seemed like a standard 4-string bass wasn’t good enough anymore. The same went for acoustic bass, in the preceding decades bassists made their own records with the bass very much “in the front.” Now it’s totally the opposite, for many at least – bass players pay more attention to the tone and the lower register and many in fact became more focused on the composer/bandleader role, rather than the dominating bass role.
When and why did you move to the US and are now based in the NYC area?
I moved here with my family in 2017. New York City has such vibrant scene and a great number of excellent musicians of all sorts to work with. As far as my latest record concerned, I couldn’t have imagined making it with any other musicians in some other place. In fact, many of the tunes on it were written with Dave Binney’s sound in mind.
How did you first meet musicians in the NYC jazz scene?
I knew many musicians even before I came here – many came to tour England where I lived for seven years, or Russia. We did a month-long tour with Mark Shim and Colin Stranahan back in 2015, it’s a networking thing in other words, just like for anyone else and I’m no exception here.
How long was “For Its Beauty Alone” in the making?
I wrote maybe two tunes from the album when I was still in Russia, the rest of it were ideas and shapes pretty much in my head that I developed and put on paper here in the US within a relatively short period of time. It may seem hard to believe, but at the moment of the recording I have been in the US for less than a year and I was able to make it all happen without compromising a thing.
What was the inspiration for it and do the songs fit together in any theme or are they different ideas and experiences?
There is an idea behind the entire album and all the pieces were composed and put together accordingly. We live in a rather troubled time with all that violence, injustice, hypocrisy and other depraved things around us, and the concept is, we still have the beauty around us and inside us, as human beings, and if we try hard enough, this beauty will change the world, and so I wanted to reflect certain events and feelings – kind and angry, violent and peaceful and so forth – and to illustrate how beauty and love can be a resolution.
What track did you like producing the best?
I liked producing all of them, as a matter of fact, but I would probably emphasize “Camera Obscura” for its wide range of colors and moods, its complexity and use of electronics and other tools and devices such as rhythmic, harmonic, melodic, its neat form. The title track “…For Its Beauty Alone” is there to reflect the beauty and grief perhaps, and it is very dear to me in another way, however, I have a strong feeling that “Camera Obscura” is the peak point of the entire album and delivers something that words would fail to describe. The first track, “Exposition en Niveaux de Gris,” is a sort of a glimpse of what is about to happen, without revealing everything, but just enough to outline a certain ambience and the last track …For Its Beauty Alone (Reprise) celebrates the beauty and life, and beyond. I also liked to include a bit of my poetry preceding the title track – something I wasn’t known for and the tool I have never employed before.
What was the most challenging track for the band?
I don’t think there was one, not in the sense of “not coming out the right way” at least. Dave, Matt and Rudy are tremendous musicians who played a lot of different music and one could only dream to have such a band in the studio for his or her own record.
Why did you choose to create music with the jazz artists in your ensemble?
David Binney was on my radar for a long time before I even came to New York. He is very prolific, innovative and open-minded musician and composer. I was also amazed by his astonishing producer work on the last few albums by Donny McCaslin. Matt Mitchell and Rudy Royston are both great and super organic players – both are leaders of their own projects and are sidemen on the records I admire. I don’t think I ever had to give them any instructions or anything of that sort concerning how I wanted the music to be played.
What has been the initial reaction to the new CD?
The album gathered and continues to gather very favorable reviews in the media and there will be more to follow. It was played on the radio in the UK, Canada and Slovakia, so my guess is we did a pretty good job. We also did post-production with Dave Binney – a stage after the studio recording with certain elements added, reviewed and so on.
Has this CD opened doors for you for future venues or collaborations?
This is my second album as a leader and it is quite a deviation stylistically and otherwise from what I was doing before. I think it is good that musicians and others learned now about my new direction and appearance, so to speak. One of my ambitions was to get involved in the contemporary, experimental/improvising music scene and NYC is one of the best places in the world to do that, on my opinion.
Speaking of the upcoming shows, they are:
Feb 19, 2020 at Smalls Jazz Club (183 W 10th St. NYC), with two shows starting at 7:30 p.m. and 9 p.m.
Dec 29, 2019 at St. Peter’s Church (619 Lexington Ave., NYC) at 6 p.m. w/David Binney, Matt Mitchell and Kenny Wollesen
There will definitely be more show dates, so stay tuned and check my social media:
Photos courtesy of and with permission of Yuriy Galkin.
(c) Debbie Burke 2019