sun 04/12/2022

Album: Vadim Neselovskyi - Odesa: A Musical Walk Through a Legendary City | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Vadim Neselovskyi - Odesa: A Musical Walk Through a Legendary City

Album: Vadim Neselovskyi - Odesa: A Musical Walk Through a Legendary City

A poignant and superbly achieved solo piano album

Vadim Neselovskyi creates a musical world of his own

Odesa (Sunnyside) is a deeply-felt and wonderfully played solo piano album with a massive emotional and stylistic compass. New York-based composer/pianist Vadim Neselovskyi has made a strong statement in homage to the city by the Black Sea where he was born, and to its unique cultural and musical heritage.

Neselovskyi is one of those musicians whose astonishing potential – above all as composer – was spotted ridiculously early. He entered a newly-formed elite composition class in his home city at the age of just eight. By 14 his compositions were being presented abroad by Ukrainian cultural delegations. Then when he was 17 his family emigrated to Germany.

In his early twenties he won a full scholarship to Berklee in Boston, where the impact of his arrival is still remembered. Gary Burton, Dean of the school at the time, who later brought him into his own band, has said of him recently: “He was blending together classical fragments, melodies and harmonies into his improvising more seamlessly than I had ever heard anyone do it. He threads them into his musical world.”

Neselovskyi was supposed to stay in the US for just one year. He has now lived there for two decades, and had been a faculty member at Berklee for the past 10 years. He lives in New York, counts Fred Hersch as another mentor, and reckons his spiritual home these days is John Zorn’s club The Stone.

On Odesa, the "musical world of his own" that Gary Burton described is exactly where Neselovskyi takes us, and right from the start. The opening skirmishes take us into a pianistic territory as violent as any that Prokoviev or indeed Jean Barraqué could have imagined. But from there we are taken straight to a place where one can hear peaceful echoes of Grieg (and indeed Keith Jarrett) at their most lyrical. “My First Rock Concert" takes us confidently through a whole  narrative. "Waltz of Odesa Conservatory" is sardonically Soviet, and the final, hopeful, "The Renaissance of Odesa" is utterly affecting in the best, timeless, Brad Mehldau-ish fashion.

The astonishing thing about Odesa is that it works on so many levels. First, there is a very strong storyline, and one which is, obviously, poignant. The track titles set each scene in turn. And yet if one hears it as "pure music", the variety of expression and the stylistic polymath-ery going on are jaw-dropping. Neselovskyi is not an ivory tower figure; he was galvanised into action by the Russian invasions of his country in 2014 and this year; the current run of live performances of Odesa has already raised €100,000 for Ukrainian charities.

I met Neselovskyi in April and checked whether he thought Odesa should be listened to as a series of distinct pieces, or as a single through-composed sequence. His eyes glinted as he gave me this answer: “It is one uninterrupted journey. It’s a movie. You could compare it to a dream where your consciousness brings you something that happened to you. Then something that never happened to you. Then something that happened to someone else...”

He’s right. Odesa has an abundance of life and a particular vividness, and deserves to be heard on its own terms.

@sebscotney

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