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The Ganelin Trio

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Biography

The late Soviet Union was not renowned for its contributions to jazz, but it did produce at least one notable group, for in the '70s and '80s the Ganelin Trio was arguably the world's greatest free jazz ensemble. Comprised of pianist Vyacheslav Ganelin, saxophonist Vladimir Chekasin, and drummer Vladimir Tarasov, the trio's mostly improvised music was as emotionally intense as anything being created in the U.S. -- or anywhere else -- at the time. The three members were extraordinarily skilled, possessed abundant chops and imagination. In style and instrumentation, the band was similar to Cecil Taylor's trio with Sunny Murray and Jimmy Lyons. It differed, however, in several ways. First, the Ganelin Trio utilized different materials; the musicians' backgrounds dictated as much. Secondly, the instrumentation wasn't exactly the same; Ganelin frequently played piano, keyboard bass, and percussion -- sometimes simultaneously -- and Chekasin was adept at playing two saxophones at once. Finally, the Ganelin Trio was truly a band of equals. Where Taylor ultimately dominated his band, Ganelin, Chekasin, and Tarasov were consummate team players, each complementing, inspiring, and cooperating with the other. Born in Moscow, Ganelin played in jazz and dance bands as a teenager. He attended the Lithuanian State Conservatory in Vilnius, graduating in 1968. The next year, he formed a duo with Tarasov and two years later, they were joined by Chekasin and the Ganelin Trio was born. The group performed at the Warsaw Jazz Jamboree in 1976; that year they also released their first album -- Con Anima -- on Melodiya, the Soviet state record label. Leo Feigin, a Russian émigré living in London, began issuing records of the band's work on his Leo Records label, helping establish their reputation worldwide. The group eventually played jazz festivals all over Europe and the U.S. before disbanding in 1987. In addition to his jazz activities, Ganelin also taught composition at the Vilnius State Conservatory and served as music director of the Vilnius Russian Drama Theatre. Ganelin now lives in Israel; he leads another Ganelin Trio, with Petras Vysniauskas on reeds and Klaus Kugel on drums. ~ Chris Kelsey

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