"Alperin's compositions are impossible to classify in terms of genre," wrote ThomasRothschild in the Frankfurter Rundschauin a 1990 review of the pianist's ECM debut Wave of Sorrow. "They are for the most part short, aphoristic pieces indebted as much to Bartók,Schnittke or Kurtág as to Jarrett or Corea. They are unique indeed, and must be heard."
Misha Alperin was born in the Ukraine, 41 years ago. He grew up in Bessarabia in theeastern part of Moldavia where he played extensively with folk musicians while alsostudying composition and piano, and in 1980 was a member of the Moldavian Jazz Ensemble of saxophonist/violinist Semjon Shirman. In 1983 he moved to Moscow where he began,experimentally, to cross-reference elements of the Russian and Romanian folk musicsof the Moldavian region with his own, subjective, understanding of the jazz tradition(Alperin came relatively late to jazz but was influenced less by contemporary pianiststhan by idiosyncratic masters including Tatum, Powell and Tristano) He also drewupon elements of his own family's Jewish musical heritage; his grandfather had writtenmusic for the Synagogue in Bessarabia, and the plight of the Soviet Jew was to be oneof the sub-themes of Wave of Sorrow.
"There is this thing about jazz," Alperin has said, "especially current European jazz,that it can embrace all the music in the world... I'm not about to deny the Americanorigins or development of jazz, or to undervalue the importance of giants like Miles Davis and John Coltrane. But...originally American jazz was influenced by Europeanmusic; quite naturally American jazz influenced us, and now it seems we Europeansare able to contribute again." Alperin's perspective has been shaped by his geographicalisolation from the scene: Moldavia, Russia and now Norway have provided the particularvantage points from which he has witnessed the interplay of influences. Currentlyteaching at the Oslo Music Academy, he considers his North Story to be an "imaginative recreation" of the spirit that fueled Norwegian jazz in the1970s, that "revolutionary period" (in Alperin's words) when the players of the northwere looking at their own musical roots and reevaluating the potential of Nordicfolk forms in an improvisatory light. This history dovetails quite neatly with Alperin'sexperiences, and his writing on North Storybinds together Nordic and "ex-Soviet" elements, while encouraging the Norwegian soloiststo tell their own tales, alongside those of the pianist's associate of long-standing,the french horn virtuoso Arkady Shilkloper.
Shilkloper was born in Moscow and studied brass instruments from the age of six, atten entering the Moscow Military Music Academy. From 1978 to 1985 he was a memberof the Bolshoi Theatre and the Bolshoi Brass Quartet. In this capacity and, until1989, as a member also of the Moscow Philharmonic, he toured the world. Shilkloper began toplay jazz only in his twenties and with no knowledge of the handful of improvisorswho have played the french horn: by the time he came to hear recordings of, for example,Julius Watkins or David Amram, the bases of his highly individual style were alreadylaid. It remained only for his accidental encounter with the music of Alperin toset the seal on his musical development. While walking through a Moscow neighbourhood,Shilkloper heard "strange piano music" (the sound of Alperin at practise) emanating froman apartment window and was emboldened to investigate further. Shilkloper becamea regular attendee at Alperin concerts and soon admiration led to collaboration."The Moldavian music Misha had adapted is noted for its demands on horn players. It was abig challenge to see if I could contribute to his concept." The question was resolvedin the Alperin/Shilkloper duo on Wave of Sorrowand subsequently in the Moscow Art Trio - with Misha and Arkady plus folk singer/clarinettistSergey Starostin - which has become a permanent fixture on the European festivalcircuit.
For the Nordic cast of North Story, Alperin draws on established ECM talent and adds a new name, that of bassist TerjeGewelt, to the roster of Norwegian jazz musicians. Gewelt has worked extensivelywith Scottish saxophonist Tommy Smith (the latter introduced long ago on Gary Burton's"Whiz Kids" album) and also recorded with guitarist Ahmad Mansour.
Jon Christensen of course was one of the original architects of the new directionsin Scandinavian music and, since his ECM debut on Afric Pepperbird in 1970, has played on almost 50 recordings for the label. Saxophonist Tore Brunborg,who makes a particularly strong showing on North Story, was brought to ECM in the context of the Arild Andersen/Jon Christensen band Masqualero(albums: Bande á Part, Aero, Re-Enter) and also appears on Jon Balke's large ensemble projects with Oslo 13 (Nonsentration) and the Magnetic North Orchestra (Further).