Alexander Scriabin’s Ragtime Band

scriabin_ragtime_300x300The curious, often sensual and hypnotic soundworld of Alexander Scriabin is viewed through the lens of a three-piece jazz ensemble in the David Gordon Trio’s new album Alexander Scriabin’s Ragtime Band. Released at the close of the year marking the centenary of Russian composer Alexander Scriabin’s death, the album is a witty and imaginative take on Scriabin’s music, part reinterpretation, part hommage to the many elements and influences which make up this composer’s unusual oeuvre.

In an earlier article for this site, written on the anniversary of Scriabin’s death, David Gordon describes the many motifs and idioms from jazz which are also present in Scriabin’s music. He also highlights the other music which was being created over in America and Western Europe at the same time, from Irving Berlin to Claude Debussy. Thus the album contains tracks which reference these composers too, from the entertaining ‘Alexander Scriabin’s Ragtime Band’ (track 2) which directly references Berlin’s ‘Alexander’s Ragtime Band’. In ‘Cakewalk’ there is a groovy hint of Debussy’s ‘Golliwog’s Cakewalk’ from Children’s Corner, a reminder that Debussy fell under the spell of a new kind of music emerging from America. ‘Famous Etude’ turns Scriabin’s Op 8, No. 12 into a sensual tango which segues into a samba, David Gordon weaving a hypnotic piano improvisation over silky cymbal and drums.

In an way, the opening track is the most interesting. Scriabin’s original Prelude op. 74 no. 2  becomes Praeludium Mysterium, a trippy number with spooky, Schoenberg-like dissonance which tells us as much about the strange soundworld and musical personality of Alexander Scriabin as it does about the David Gordon Trio’s ability to create something striking and new out of what is normally defined as “classical” music. The result is a wonderfully weird fusion. The ensuing tracks are arrangements, mostly by the Trio’s pianist, David Gordon, and like the opening track, they are not just “jazzed up” classics. The music exploits Scriabin’s penchant for dissonance and innovation and hints at what Scriabin might have composed had he lived longer.

Throughout, David Gordon’s piano sound is bright, yet warm, with sparing, sensitive rubato, a clear sense of phrasing and rhythmic vitality in the upbeat numbers. He is complemented by bass player Jonty Fisher and drummer Paul Cavaciuti. The Trio are adept at switching seamlessly between styles, and the whole album works as one might experience a set or two in a jazz club, or enjoy individual tracks as the mood takes you.

Mister Sam Records SAMCD004

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