Monday, 10 January 2011

Review by Dave Lynch 

Guitarist Brad Shepik is likely the most well-known member of Tridruga, and although he plays superbly throughout this trio's eponymous debut CD on Love Slave Records, the recording should not be considered a Shepik disk. Rather, Tridruga is very much a three-way collaboration with bassist Tony Scherr and, especially, accordionist Yuri Yemeshev sharing the spotlight. Russian-born Yemeshev is an interesting character, a serious accordionist who has also cultivated a somewhat zany presence in New York City's East Village by donning a wild assortment of hats and wigs and mugging (quite entertainingly, it must be admitted) for his audiences during bistro performances. Yemeshev's mastery of Russian and Eastern European folk and folk-influenced classical accordion music, rather than his headgear, is no doubt what brought him to the attention of Shepik and reedman Matt Darriau, musicians who are both widely recognized for incorporating Eastern European and Asian influences into their creative jazz pursuits. Yemeshev might be an accordion traditionalist compared with avant figures ranging from Guy Klucevsek to Andrea Parkins, but he is hip enough to sit in with Shepik and Darriau during Paradox Trio gigs at New York's Knitting Factory club and finally to merit equal partnership with downtown jazz veterans Shepik and Scherr on Tridruga. A collection of tunes drawing from both folk and jazz traditions, Tridruga is brightly recorded yet filled with the warmth of a close conversation. It is easy to imagine the trio performing beside the hearth of a cottage on Sakhalin, the Russian island north of Japan where Yemeshev lived before moving to New York. Shepik plays acoustic nylon-stringed guitar throughout, strumming in rhythmic accompaniment or matching Yemeshev's fleet-fingered single-note accordion runs. Further folk authenticity is provided by Scherr's contrabass balalaika, the lowest-tuned version of the familiar Russian and Eastern European three-stringed lute. Scherr has a masterful touch whether laying down a deep pulse beneath his bandmates or stating a theme in the forefront, as on Shepik's brooding "One Hundred Years." Yemeshev and Shepik split the group's composing credits, and both have written lovely melodies and chord sequences that frame heartfelt improvisations. A yearning quality imbues many of the tunes, as evidenced by titles such as Yemeshev's "Wind Cries" and Shepik's "Forgotten Island." (The sprightly "Potato Head" reveals Yemeshev's lighter compositional side.) Modern Russian composer Alfred Schnittke's "Main Theme From the 'Little Tragedies'" is the CD's final track; it is a darkly beautiful rendition, understated yet dramatic, and a fitting conclusion for the recording. "Tridruga" translates as "three friends," and Yemeshev, Shepik, and Scherr possess an empathy that aptly suggests years of musical camaraderie. The listener feels privileged to be drawn into their intimate circle. 

To listen to the tracks:

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