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      Leningrad 1980s

• Sergey Kuryokhin and Pop Mekhanika – all documents
• Сергей Курёхин и Поп-механика – все документы


Sergey Kuryokhin: Improvisations and Performances

by Hannelore Fobo, September 2017

Part One

• page 1 • Preliminary Remarks

• page 2 • Hans Kumpf and Sergey Kuryokhin

• page 3 • 1980-1981: the first meetings

• page 4 • Leningrad Collective Improvisations 1983: pictures and text

• page 5 • Timur Novikov and Ivan Sotnikov: the Utiugon

• page 6 • Leningrad Collective Improvisations 1983: music and audio recording (4min 12s fragment)

Leningrad Collective Improvisations: documents and audio files

• page 7 • Hans Kumpf: description of the first part (German / English)

• page 8 • Sergey Kuryokhin: Introduction (4min 37s) to the first part. Voice recording and transcription with English translation

• page 9 • Sergey Kuryokhin: introductions to the second part. Transcription with English translation and six audio fragments

• page 10 • Reference list


Part Two

Pop Mekhanika in the West (forthcoming)



Part One:

• page 3 • Hans Kumpf and Sergey Kuryokhin 1980-1981: the first meetings

The 1983 Leningrad Collective Improvisations had been organised by Sergey Kuryokhin, with whom Hans Kumpf had played before: twice in 1980, and again in 1981.

He are Kumpf’s first impressions of Kuryokhin from a concert at the Kirov Palace of Culture, June 1980:

    During the jazz concert in the Palace of Culture there were five different groups. The most interesting contribution was made by a saxophonist, Anatoly Vapirov, and a pianist, Sergey Kuryokhin. While broken Debussy chords were played on the piano, Vapirov played softly on his soprano saxophone. On the tenor sax he demonstrated the kind of fragmentary flourishes that occur in fairly modern twentieth-century classical music, and on the alto sax his reverence for free jazz. At the end of his last number things were quieter and we heard some jolly ragtime. Even in the free passages there were no wild emotional outbursts; and this seems to me a special characteristic of Soviet jazz, especially in Leningrad.

    Even in relaxed moods order and discipline predominate, and there is no musical exhibitionism. Vapirov, who studied the classical clarinet and now teaches the saxophone at the Leningrad Musical Academy, is regarded as the leading avant-garde saxophonist in this city of four million inhabitants, while his partner Kuryokhin, who also uses ‘prepared’ pianos, like John Cage, is the chief avant-garde pianist.[1] more>>

Anatoly Vapirov and Sergey Kuryokhin
Kirov Palace of Culture, May 1980, Leningrad 1980 • Photo: Hans Kumpf

After the concert, Kumpf got to know Vapirov, Kuryokhin and other jazz musicians from the “Contemporary Music Club” (Клуб современной музыки), Leningrad’s avant-garde Jazz Club, and he was invited to pay them another visit. In December 1980 he smuggled his clarinet into the Soviet Union, recorded a jam session, and then smuggled the tapes out of the country to produce the LP “Leningrad Jam Session” with Anatoly Vapirov (sax), Alexander Alexandrov (bassoon), Sergey Kuryokhin (piano), and Hans Kumpf (clarinet).  “Leningrad Jam Session”, released on Kumpf’s label AKM in 1981, became the first record with a contribution by Sergey Kuryokhin more>> and more>>.[2] Arranged by Kuryokhin, the recording took place at the sound studio of the Musorgsky Musical College.[3]

Sergey Kuryokhin, Anatoly Vapirov and Alexander Alexandrov
Sound studio of the Musorgsky Musical College, Leningrad, December 1980. Photo Hans Kumpf

Kumpf commented on the jam session: “The music clicked in spite of the language difficulties (the Russian jazz musicians could barely speak English) because of the common code of music. In the performance of the pieces nothing definite was prearranged except f?? t?? instrumentation and a vague outline of what was to be played.”[4]

Kevin Whitehead reviewed the LP in the May 1982 edition of the prestigious magazine “Cadence – The American Review of Jazz & Blues.” The review ends with the following lines:

    The piano of Kurjochin – the Kuryokhin whose solo LP was reviewed in March '82 (p.91); transliteration is an inexact science – functions mostly as en equal partner with the horns, rather than as a rhythm instrument. He favors strongly percussive, single-note lines; he steps out on “Tinana,” in front of droning horns.

    Kumpf is one of the out players who is putting the clarinet back on the map. Putting it? At this point it's back already.[5] more>>

The circumstances of the recording were a real adventure, as the presence of a West-German musician and the recording itself had to be concealed from security officers and other staff. In order to protect his hosts, Kumpf decided to refer, in his text for the LP, to the Lensoviet Cultural Palace as the place of recording. It provided a more official address, although Kumpf had to sneak unnoticed into this place, too.

The Lensoviet Cultural Palace, more exactly a hall on its second floor, was the venue for concerts organised by the “Contemporary Music Club”. On 29 December 1980, shortly after the LP recording, Kumpf joined musicians for concert there.[6] Participants at this concert were, among others, Vapirov, Alexandrov and Volkov. Kumpf wrote: “I was most impressed by the bass player Vladimir Volkov with whom I played a delightful and subtle duet.” more>> [7]

Sergey Kuryokhin, Anatoly Vapirov, Vladimir Volkov, Hans Kumpf and Alexander Alexandrov
Contemporary Music Club at the
Lensoviet Palace of Culture, Leningrad, December 1980
Photo: Hans Kumpf

Kumpf’s next trip to the Soviet Union, in June 1981, took place at the same time as that of American pianist John Fischer. In Leningrad, they played at the “Contemporary Music Club” (6 June 1981) with Vapirov, Kuryokhin, Alexandrov, Volkov (bass), Gayvoronsky (flugelhorn), Kondrashkin (drums) and Vladislav Makarov (cello), who had come especially from Smolensk. Here are Kumpf’s comments:

    “Variety was provided by including improvisations with many different instrumental combinations. There was perhaps too much emphasis on effect and 'show' in many of the pieces, and I often missed the atmosphere of overall relaxation and interior repose.” more>> [8]
They next day they met at the bar of the Palace of Culture: “Here there were more opportunities for communication. John Fischer was of course asked many questions about the American scene.” more>> [9]

In Moscow, Kumpf recorded with John Fischer, pianist Leonid Chizhik and saxophonist / clarinetist Alexey Zubov a record he released as Jam Session Moscow. more>> [10] Sergey Kuryokhin was with them in Moscow and apparently spent quite some time with his German and American colleagues in Leningrad, too. Hans Kumpf’s pictures show him and Fischer playing four hands on the piano, perhaps at the sound studio of the Musorgsky Musical Collage. The meeting must have been important to both: the pictures also show a studio engineer sitting at a table loaded with technical equipment. A forest of cables connects tape recorders and amplifiers. Several microphones are picking up the sound from the piano, the front part of which is uncovered, revealing the piano hammers.

John Fischer and Sergey Kuryokhin
June 1981, Leningrad • Photo: Hans Kumpf

John Fischer and Sergey Kuryokhin
June 1981, Leningrad • Photo: Hans Kumpf

Although it is not clear what happened to the tapes from this specific recording, the importance of recording such improvisations was evident. Some weeks earlier, on 2 April, Sergey Kuryokhin had recorded his first solo LP, published in late 1981 by London-based Leo Records under the title “The Ways of Freedom”.[11] Hans Kumpf delivered the cover photo taken in June 1981, originally a double portrait with John Fischer and Sergey Kurykohin.

John Fischer and Sergey Kuryokhin
June 1981, Leningrad • Photo: Hans Kumpf

Sergey Kuryokhin "The Ways of Freedom"
Leo Records, London, 1981

Given his experience in keeping his calm at the customs, Kumpf might also have been involved in the process of smuggling the tapes to London. The text on the back of the LP cover states “Leo Records is grateful to all those people who had the courage to preserve and deliver the tape” and expresses “extra thanks to Hans Kumpf and Seva L.” This record made Kuryokhin famous overnight – "Mr. Kuryokhin is a true discovery" (Jon Pareles, The New York Times, 1983[12]). In February 1983, a long interview by Alexander Kan with Sergey Kuryokhin was published in “Cadence“. more>>[13]

next: • page 4 • Leningrad Collective Improvisations 1983: pictures and text >>



[1] Kumpf, “My trips to Russia”, p. 71

[2] “Jam Session Leningrad” feat. Hans Kumpf (clarinet), Anatolij Vapirow (clarinet, bass-clarinet, alto-saxophone, tenor-saxophone), Sergej Kurjochin (piano), Alexander Alexandrow (bassoon). Murr: AKM-Records 1981.

[3] Kan, Jazz, p. 111

[4] Kumpf, “My trips to Russia”, p. 77

[5] Kevin Whitehead. “Hans Kumpf and Anatolij Vapirow Trio, Jam Session Leningrad, Fusion 8004.” In Cadence – The American Review of Jazz & Blues, Vol.8 No5, May 1982.

[6] Kumpf “Enfant terrible“ und Superstar.has an account of the recording.

[7] Kumpf, “My trips to Russia”, p 77

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid. P. 78

[10] Jam Session Moscow, feat. Hans Kumpf, John Fischer, Leonid Chizhik, Alexey Zubov. AKM 005, 1981

[11] Sergey Kuryokhin “The Ways of Freedom”, London: Leo Records, 1981. The day of the recording is indicated on the record jacket. In 2001 Leo Records reissued the music as a single CD with a different cover picture.

[12] Pareles, Jon. The Pop Life. The New York Times, 5 January 1983

[13] Kan, Alexander. “Sergey Kuryokhin Interview. Taken by Alexander Kan.” Translated from the Russian by Felicity Cave. In Cadence. The American Review of Jazz & Blues, Vol.9 No.2, February 1983, pp. 10-14, 24.

According to Alexander Kan, it was his first interview with Sergey Kuryokhin. Cadence dates it to December 1981 while Kan dates it to November 1982. Kan, Kuryokhin, p. 44, see footnote below.

Russian names: Анатолий Вапиров, Сергей Курёхин, Алекснадр Александров, Владимир Волков, Леонид Чижик, Алексей Зубов, ДК Кирова, ДК Ленсовета, Клуб современной музыки

Last up-dated 27 October 2017

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