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A taste of freedom and jazz programming

Jānis Žilde

An overview of «Jersika Records» label’s newest releases

Jurijs Viharevs / Juris Āķis / Einārs Raibais «The Lost Latvian TV Studio Sessions 1967»

A taste of freedom

Even if the title of the album incorporated the words «lost sessions», nothing is truly lost. The historical jazz recording, released by the company «Jersika Records,» has been stored on the shelf of double bassist Juris Āķis all these years. When changing residence, Āķis noticed this recording in one of the cardboard boxes, where on a yellow cover was written «Viharev’s trio,» and handed it over to the publishing director Mareks Ameriks. This is not a traditional album recorded in a studio but rather a fixed version of free musical improvisation, a rehearsal process of three young jazz musicians preparing for a TV show recording. The recording took place at the LTV studio in Āgenskalns on August 20, 1967, shortly after the legendary Tallinn Jazz Festival. Listening to the album, you can feel the echoes of the festival — Yuri Viharev, a jazz pianist from Leningrad (as St. Petersburg was called in Soviet times), in the middle of Miles Davis’s composition «So What,» almost dissolves into free jazz improvisation, at the same time slightly preparing the listener to hear the piano solo. Alongside Viharev and Āķis, drummer Einārs Raibais should be mentioned, who lived a short but vivid life, leaving his mark in the history of both jazz and Latvian rock music (the band «Katedrāle»). A unique testimony of jazz that allows a glimpse into the free-spirited musical beliefs and experiments of the youth of the 1960s.

Kārlis Auziņš / Rihards Plešanovs «Still Nature»

Beneath the experiment umbrella

Does Latvia have its own jazz language? Music experts have been trying to answer this question for quite some time. During the Soviet era, Latvian jazz musicians were mainly inspired by American models, while after the regaining of Latvia’s independence, steps in the direction of jazz development were rather modest. Only in recent years has a new generation emerged, educated in Western Europe. The talented saxophonist Kārlis Auziņš, for example, graduated from the Amsterdam and Copenhagen Conservatories of Rhythmic Music, bringing new colors to Latvian jazz. But is it the long-sought language of Latvian jazz? Kokle player Biruta Ozoliņa believes that we have not yet found our own sound. «For example, Jan Garbarek,» she says, «from the very first sounds, it is clear that it is Norwegian music, yes, and jazz. Norwegian. Is it the same for Latvians? I think not yet.»

Listening to the collaboration «Still Nature» by Kārlis Auziņš and academically educated pianist Rihards Plešanovs, one can’t shake off the feeling that it has all been heard before. Auziņš himself admitted drawing inspiration from African and Indian rhythms — right where all the other jazz musicians have been drawing since the beginning of the 20th century. Perhaps we should seek inspiration from Latvian folklore?

Ļubomirs Meļņiks «The Sacred Thousand»

Against education

Ukrainian pianist and composer Ļubomirs Meļņiks was born in Germany in 1948. In the mid-seventies, he worked at the Paris Opera, developing his unique playing style, now known as «continuous music». Two such continuous renditions of single compositions, each lasting 23-25 minutes, are included in the latest release from «Jersika Records» titled «The Sacred Thousand.» The live version of the album’s title composition was recorded entirely on analog magnetic tape on September 13, 2022, at the Riga sound recording studio in the Reformation Church. On the other side of the record, the same composition was digitally recorded during a concert three days later in Turin, Italy. The piece is dedicated to the brave defenders of the Azov Steel Plant in Mariupol — Ukrainian soldiers who valiantly fought against the overwhelming Russian army. This album manages to capture the tense atmosphere that we experience every day, awaiting the latest news from Mariupol — slightly resigned and hopeless, yet infused with spirituality and various emotions and colors, guiding us towards the infinity.

Miķelis Dzenuška un Uzvaras bulvāris «Satiksmes mezgls»

Jazz programming

We already know well that within seconds, by inputting certain keywords, artificial intelligence can generate unique photographs, film scripts, music videos, and, of course, music. The academic field is especially sensitive and threatened in this regardtexts based on sources, quotes, and pop songs with a defined structure that is easy to replicate. Over time, even jazz improvisation in a specific tonality in the execution of artificial intelligence will sound quite convincing. After all, music is mathematics, where specific elements are manipulated. I’m not saying that the new album of the talented and somewhat eccentric jazz vibraphonist Miķelis Dzenšaks could have been composed by artificial intelligence, but, for some reason, listening to «Satiksmes mezgls» (Traffic Node), which is based on rapidly changing themes, skillful improvisations, traditional, and at times slightly broken rhythm elements, it led me to thoughts about the future of music and its prospects. Dzenšaks himself admits that the music on the record has a programmatic character — the titles of the compositions indicate their content («Satiksmes mezgls,» «Zvirbuļu deja»), even though the album’s compositions originated analogously, using piano, sheet music, and pencil. This analog sound, cultivated by the «Jersika Records» label led by Mareks Amerika, is what still preserves genuine music from artificially created, so let’s appreciate it today.