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Deniss Pashkevich — musical chameleon

Ēriks Miezis

Two fresh albums by a Latvian saxophonist are a pleasure for various tastes

People call musical chameleons both performing artists and composers who can simultaneously work in different, sometimes even absolutely contrasting genres. The Latvian jazz scene nowadays has one such musician, and his name is Deniss Pashkevich, who last year released avant-garde and mysterious «Code of Ethics» and introspective «Melody», full of thoughts and mood swings.

The name «Melody» has a double meaning. First of all, it points at the album’s musical contents — well-known compositions considered «golden repertoire» with the basis of a powerful, well-composed, and memorable melody. Second, «Melodija» has some historical context because the recording took place at the Reformed church where in Soviet times, the recording studio for the world-known factory «Melodija» was established.

Among the compositions, there are such classical jazz ballads as Duke Ellington’s «In A Sentimental Mood» and John Coltrane’s «Naima», as well as standards «Have You Met Miss Jones», «The Nearness Of You» and «You Don’t Know What Love Is». The composition before the last one is the well-known «Over The Rainbow». You won’t hear much of quick tempos and motoric movement in the album — while listening to the «Melody», there’ll only be calmness and wonder of the moment. Being here and now. It’s interesting to listen to the compositions in the same manner, the ones we’re accustomed to hearing in a more energetic rhythm. John Coltrane’s «Giant Steps» here sound completely different, giving the listener a chance to savor the relationships of harmonies and melodies typical for this composition.

Not every musician nowadays is brave and artistically capable enough to record great versions of classic jazz standards. A solution that’s often met is to choose a radical path — create a version that’s absolutely unlike the original, the way that’s hard for the listener to compare both tunes. A braver choice is to stick to a color palette created by the Greats and try to show your voice in the existing frames. I have to admit that Pashkevich has got it, and as a seeker of new paths and the one acknowledged with the tradition at the same time has created powerful versions of the standards. In terms of sound, it is similar to the originals, but the performance is so convincing that it doesn’t ask any questions about its artistic value or meaning. Of course, we should appraise the creative spirit of all the other band members — Kristaps Vanadziņš on the piano, Andris Grunte on the double bass, and Rūdolfs Dankfelds on the drums.

A way more experimentation vector and more creative search can be heard in the «Code of Ethics». The trio that already has its place in the European «Jazz Tree» and got lots of international appraisals together with Edvīns Ozols and Artis Orubs turn to musical choices and magic of the moment. Documentation of four quite long improvisations is a dense listening, suitable for enjoying at some special time. Typical for free musical recordings, their luck depends on the listener’s readiness and his wish to receive this material. The thoughts and feelings of music lovers will always be different, but this recording has already received some appraisals from high-level music professionals.

«Code Of Ethics» musical material has some clear parallels with another project of Pashkevich, «TEN KA» because here, the saxophonist and flutist also turn to electronics and modular synthesizers. Actually, we can consider this album a continuation of «TEN KA» of sorts, with a powerful rhythm band joining the soloist. Speaking of the contents, typical interests of Pashkevich can be seen in the names of the compositions, taking their place in between physical and natural phenomena («Subsonic» «Architecture») and spiritual searches («Spiritual Forces», «Episodes of Elisha»).

Looking at the last year’s «harvest», we see that Deniss Pashkevich, despite different challenges and his actions in other spheres, still can keep his artistic level very high both as a performing artist, composer, and producer. Respect for quite a bright personality on our local music scene.