Acrobat: Music for, and by, Dmitri Shostakovich

by Michael Bates

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about

Tracks:
1. Dance of Death
2. Talking Bird
3. Strong Arm
4. Some Wounds
5. Fugitive Pieces
6. Silent Witness
7. The Given Day
8. Yurodivy
9. Arcangela

CD Quality - 16 bit / 44.1 khz

Composer Dmitri Shostakovich lived an extraordinarily strange life. A cultured, creative individual forced to play a part in his country’s history against his will, used as a propaganda tool of a tyrant. In such a claustrophobic and paranoia inducing environment, Shostakovich was still able to create musical works of genius that have inspired musicians for decades since, including bassist/composer Michael Bates.

It would be hard not to admire an individual who endured so much for his art. Shostakovich’s musical expression covered a vast emotional territory, from tortured to wistful, deferential to satirical. Risking his own safety and legacy, Shostakovich would deceptively fill his compositions with themes that mocked the person and policies of Stalin and his repressive State. He was a unique figure in the cultural legacy of Russia, a man invested in but not of the State. An agitator, appendage and survivor of Stalin’s Soviet Union: these unique characteristics have made Shostakovich and his music an intriguing study.

Bates has long been a fan of Shostakovich’s music and, through his own study and exploration, has created an ensemble dedicated to the spirit of Shostakovich and his work. This imaginative and intrepid ensemble includes saxophonist/clarinetist Chris Speed, trumpeter Russ Johnson, pianist Russ Lossing and drummer Tom Rainey. Together on the new CD Acrobat: Music for, and by, Dmitri Shostakovich (Sunnyside, 2011), the ensemble brings life to Bates’s compositions that are written to embody the many moods of Shostakovich and his diverse output.

The program begins with an arrangement of “Dance of Death” from Shostakovich’s Piano Trio No. 2 in E-minor, Fourth Movement. The quirky theme is bounced about jauntily by Speed’s clarinet and Johnson’s trumpet in a jagged mazurka. “Talking Bird” follows with clarinet and buzzy bass in a loose waltz meets march. The urgent “Strong Arm” features a driving melody that meets a twisted yet swinging rhythm maze, the mystery is enhanced by the ambiguous tonal wash of the electric piano. The tempo slows on the impressionistic “Some Wounds” with the lovely ruminations of Lossing’s piano and Bates’s bass with the melody sung by longing tenor saxophone and trumpet.

“Fugitive Pieces” features a shrewd ensemble performance that imitates the paranoia and drama of a man on the run. Echoing the work of Miles Davis on In a Silent Way, “Silent Witness” exudes an Eastern European echo of the early fusion masterpiece. “The Given Day” balances a smooth, yet dissonant horn line against a pulling rhythm section with a disorienting effect. Based heavily on a Shostakovich theme, “Yurodivy” meanders brazenly though blindly as instruments proceed and retreat, testing the unsteady waters. “Arcangela” begins solemnly before it picks up a percussive propulsion and urgency.

Michael Bates has been an important part of the New York jazz scene for nearly a decade. His work on double bass has been featured alongside many of the music’s most important and influential performers. Bates’s work as a composer and bandleader has been garnering recognition recently with his well received releases on the trumpeter Dave Douglas’s Greenleaf Music record label. Bates’s compositions blend elements from many musical sources, including classical, jazz and rock.

Acrobat is a triumph as both a unique musical statement and a tribute to an oft misunderstood legend. Bates is able to generate tremendously inventive musical statements that showcase his wit, sarcasm and daring, also nodding to the similar sentiments frequently present in the work of his hero, Dmitri Shostakovich.

credits

released November 22, 2012

Chris Speed - sax, clarinet
Russ Johnson - trumpet
Russ Lossing - piano, Rhodes
Tom Rainey - drums
Michael Bates - double bass

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