On record: David Gordon Trio – Alexander Scriabin’s Ragtime Band (Mister Sam Records)


Reviewed by Richard Whitehouse

Alexander Scriabin died in Moscow at Easter 1915 – unaware that, over the Atlantic, Israel Baline (Irving Berlin) had hit pay-dirt with Alexander’s Ragtime Band. The David Gordon Trio here ventures into that potent realm in which ‘musics’ meet in place as so often in time.

What’s the music like?

Praeludium Mysterium evokes Scriabin’s unrealized Himalayan extravaganza in pensive yet probing terms. Integrating his ‘mystic chord’ within the harmonic trajectory of Berlin’s hit in Alexander Scriabin’s Ragtime Band would have given both pause for thought, and Scriabin would surely have been disconcerted by transforming a prelude he never played in public into the incisive modality of Scriabin’s Depressed.

Light relief comes with the Debussian high-jinx of Cakewalk, then the engaging Prelude for Both Hands suggests  Scriabin could profitably have deployed jazz and dance idioms. Famous Etude unashamedly transforms his most famous piece into a rumba, with Antonio María Romeu’s danzón Tres Lindas Cubanas a trailblazing number that was hardly less influential on both its listening and dancing public.

Onward to the bluesy sequences of Nuances that suggest Bill Evans as a future acolyte, then the tensile Choro Mazurka gives a Brazilian twist to this most favoured dance of Scriabin’s output. Francisco Canaro’s tango El Pollito vividly overcomes the musical distance between Moscow and Buenos Aires, with the ethereal Rootless Sonata delving further into a putative Scriabin/Evans union.

Comparable possibilities are pursued with the hard-bopping rhythms of Improbable Hip, followed by the limpid piano study that is Pixinguinha’s Passínha and which opened-up the potential of choro music for non-Brazilian audiences. The programme closes with the diffusion of a mazurka into the caressing harmonies of River, most notable for those myriad timbral shades of which the synatheist Scriabin would surely have approved.

Does it all work?

Yes, because the David Gordon Trio is unafraid to stick out its collective neck in pursuit of a singular fusion. Hopefully it will further investigate the bringing together of artists diverse in aim yet kindred in spirit: maybe a Boulez/Bowie synthesis as a fitting double ‘in memoriam’?

Is it recommended?

Absolutely, as those who missed the trio’s memorable recent gig at London’s 606 Club can judge for themselves. Check out the David Gordon Trio website and also Mister Sam Records for previous releases from this thought-provoking jazz outfit.

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