GIG: Bennetts Lane, Sunday, February 20 at 9pm, courtesy of the Melbourne Jazz Cooperative
Katya Sourikova piano, Paul Van Ross tenor sax, Tom Lee double bass and Mark Lockett drums
Often reviews of live jazz performances are not useful in the way that a theatre review can be at the start of a season, but in this case there is a second performance in Melbourne. Pianist Katya Sourikova, who was born in St Petersburg of Russian parents but now lives in Berlin, will appear with the same line-up at Vibe on Smith on Wednesday, February 23 at 8.30pm. Based on the Bennetts Lane gig I am happy to recommend that performance in advance.
Sourikova moved to London when she was in her early teens and lived there for 20 years, studying classical piano before venturing into jazz in recent years. The classical influence is evident, but I’m not sure what has given rise to the variation and complexity in her compositions. Van Ross and Lockett had played with Sourikova briefly in New Zealand, and Tom Lee had the benefit only of one rehearsal before Sunday’s outing, but they did a superb job of coping with the charts, which called for frequent time signature changes and non-standard chord progressions. Indeed, the level of concentration required seemed to add an intensity to the performance.
Sourikova was most attentive to and appreciative of her Australian ring-ins, and she conveyed sensitivity, responsiveness and unselfishness in her approach, while obviously keen to have the music work as planned. She also injected a fair bit of humour, having fun with different takes on the names of band members. Her compositions did not call for dissonance or harshness from the piano, but rather beauty and finesse. Yet the variations and sense of difference always gave the pieces energy and lots of interest.
In the first set the band opened with Off the Beam, in which Van Ross shone on tenor sax, with Sourikova always attentive and quick to respond. She told the audience every piece had a story and that, if it was music they were not used to, they should close their eyes and let the music take them wherever it would.
December Sky, written in response to the Manhattan skyline, brought a double bass solo in which Lee seemed not to be pushing the notes, but just releasing them softly into the room. Van Ross on soprano sax was another highlight. Switchblade, a tongue-in-cheek piece about politicians and what they get up to, was lively.
In the Dark, dedicated originally “to my husband” and then “to all the lovers out there” was able to set pulses racing, I’m sure, but the closing piece for the set, based on the wild dreams of Ivan the drummer in Canada as he tossed and turned and talked in his sleep after drinking sessions, was a standout of quick changes. Ivan’s Dream had verve and punch, then periods of ethereal yet discordant dreaminess, with tight, controlled playing and plenty of humour.
After the break, Twilight had a classical feel and plenty of welcome space. In For Love, Once More, which began its life as a lullaby but in Banff, Canada, was dubbed by trumpeter Dave Douglas an excuse to drink lots of vodka, there was spirited piano with double bass, and standout soprano sax by Van Ross.
Hagakure (translated from Japanese as “the way of the samurai”) began in sombre fashion with piano and bass, left bell-like piano notes hanging and brought tenor notes drifting in so, so softly.
Then came a highlight for many, Urban Grind, which Sourikova said was inspired by the “joys of urban life” in “some pretty heavy industrial cities”. The sense of change and restlessness was there throughout, with sax surges extending out into deep runs as the piece developed a nice head of swing (or steam). Again, the band was tight and right on the money.
An encore brought Queen Maud Land, a reference to land in Antarctica that apparently belongs to Norway. Its moody feel evened out the evening, though it finished abruptly.
Great playing by the visitor and by the local musicians. I was reminded of why I used to enjoy living in Canada, though it was nowhere near as exotic as other places I’d lived in. There was just enough of a buzz to keep things interesting. Sourikova’s compositions were by no means “out there”, but full of interest and ever changing. I hope the festival directors keep Katya Sourikova in mind for their line-ups in future.