606 Club, London
By Richard Whitehouse
Alexander Scriabin died in Moscow Easter 1915 unaware that, over the Atlantic, younger contemporary Israel Baline (aka Irving Berlin) had recently hit the big time with ‘Alexander’s Ragtime Band’. The David Gordon Trio pursued this melding of classical music and jazz at the 606 Club in Chelsea on Tuesday, joining a long-established tradition of combining musical genres.
Most of this double-set centred on piano pieces by the Russian pianist, composer and intending world saviour. And a discerning choice of programme it was too, even if Scriabin might have been disconcerted by the transforming of a prelude he never dared play in public into the incisive modality of Scriabin’s ‘Depressed’, while the inclusion of his favoured ‘mystic chord’ onto the harmonic trajectory of Berlin’s hit would doubtless have given them both pause for thought. The engaging ‘Prelude for Both Hands’ suggested Scriabin could plausibly have embraced jazz and dance idioms, and ‘Praeludium Mysterium’ daringly evoked Scriabin’s Mysterium, an extravaganza which the composer never completed but had planned to mount in the foothills of the Himalayas.
Such possibilities were pursued even further in the hard-bopping rhythms of ‘Improbable Hip’, to which ‘River’, with its mazurka diffusing into limpid harmonies, was an ideal complement. The tensile ‘Choro Mazurka’ gave a subtle Brazilian twist to the traditional Polish dance, then the bluesy sequences of ‘Nuances’ teasingly suggested Bill Evans as a future acolyte. ‘Famous Etude’ transformed Scriabin’s most famous piano piece into a rumba that wore its heart defiantly on its sleeve.
Into this Scriabin soufflé were thrown the Debussian high-jinx of Cakewalk and such trail-blazing items as Francisco Canaro’s tango El Pollito, Antonio María Romeu’s danzón ‘Tres Lindas Cubanas’ and Pixinguinha’s choro Passínha. All can be savoured on the trio’s album Alexander Scriabin’s Ragtime Band, with its title-track humorously if insistently confirming the cultural maelstrom of 1915 to be alive and well.