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Jazz pianist Neselovskyi celebrates new CD with Side Door gig

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In terms of a career in jazz, there are some truly plum gigs. Consider, for example, playing with composer/vibraphonist Gary Burton — one of the finest musicians/educators in modern jazz. He was a principal innovator in jazz fusion and his four-mallet vibes technique is as dazzling as it was original when he refined it.

Burton has mentored several excellent young musicians over his career, often taking them on the road as members of his ongoing succession of "new generation" bands, and included in the latest lineup are guitarist Julian Lage, drummer James Williams, bassist Luques Curtis and, serving as composer/keyboardist/arranger, Ukraine native Vadim Neselovskyi.

At the same time — slowly, as time allows — Neselovskyi has started to carve a reputation as a leader. His third solo album, the newly out "Get Up and Go," released under the banner of the Vadim Neselovskyi Trio, featuring drummer Ronen Itzik and bassist Dan Loomis (with vocal help from Sara Serpa on two tracks), is destined to land on plenty of year-end best-of lists for 2017 — in any genre.

A beautifully played recording, "Get Up and Go" demonstrates Neselovskyi's superb compositional instincts. Containing 11 self-penned tunes that range from chops-clustered but playfully melodic ("On a Bicycle," "San Felio," "Who Is It?") to hauntingly gorgeous (the title song, "Station Taiga," "Krai"), Neselovskyi manages to summon the moods, versatility and stylistic qualities of artists ranging from Bill Evans and Lyle Mays to Claude DeBussy and Frederic Chopin — all the while establishing his own identity.

The Vadim Neselovskyi Trio headlines Friday at the Side Door Jazz Club in Old Lyme. The band recently finished a tour of Europe and is heading out across the States behind "Get Up and Go," and it's fair to wonder if Neselovskyi should perhaps, no matter how prestigious or lucrative the Burton gig is, be focusing on a solo career.

Neselovskyi laughs cautiously at the question and, in slightly accented and melodic English, says, "Well, out of all the sideman opportunities in jazz — and there aren't that many — being part of Gary Burton's band is one of the best in the world. From the very beginning with Gary in 2004, playing with him and the other musicians has been a wonderful education. It's very flattering, too, because he didn't hire me just as a sideman but also as a composer and arranger.

"To get on the bandstand with him for so many nights and actually play a solo after him is tremendous and frightening and enlightening. I find myself still thinking, 'This jazz legend just took a solo and now it's my turn.' Well, I can't compete with that but maybe I can offer something that's mine."

Growing up in the Ukraine, Neselovskyi says he saw the Soviet Union "collapse before my eyes, though I at least benefitted from their excellent education. That was a good side of the Soviet experience; I received quality music lessons at the age of eight."

At 17, he left with his family for Germany and was delighted by the sudden exposure to European jazz and classical music. He says, "I actually could go in shops and see (renowned jazz label) ECM albums. They were actually accessible!" He laughs. "I couldn't afford them, but I could go to the library and hear them. I had no preference. I'd listen to anything. It was like I was artistically starving."

Neselovskyi started studying classical and jazz music diligently, even artists he didn't necessarily like just to explore how the creative process worked. Even today, he says, "I'd like to go back to Prokoviev and Schumann and just play their work for five years if only to see how they did it."

He also gorged on disparate jazzers like Ornette Coleman, Keith Jarrett, Bud Powell and John Zorn, and says all of those artists helped form a subconscious vocabulary. He graduated from the Academy of Music, playing all along in his own quintet, started writing — and his first composition earned him admission to the Berklee School of Music. He graduated, earned a masters in music from the Thelonious Monk Institute and, in addition to his career as a musician, also teaches at Berklee.

Before "Get Up and Go," Neselovskyi's own albums were the full-band "Spring Song" (2007) and a Fred Hersch-produced recording of solo piano pieces titled "Music for September" (2013). In addition to his work with Burton, he also collaborates extensively with other artists ranging from Herbie Hancock to Terence Blanchard.

"Get Up and Go," Neselovskyi says, reflects all of these varied experiences and influences. "I like to use this metaphor: We all like honey, right?" He laughs. "Without going too deeply into insect biology, the flavor of a honey depends on subtle factors of the nectar consumed by the bee. It might involve oranges or chamomile. Well, an artist is nothing but a bee who produces honey out of all his experiences."

One particular signature is Neselovskyi's ability to infuse his work with a palpable sense of joy whether romping through complex post-bop figures or impressionistic pieces almost cinematic in quality. "I appreciate talent and virtuosity," he says. "But sometimes there are things that are on the surface very impressive, and it will get a lot of applause, but yet it leaves my soul cold.

"I do have technical facility and sometimes I'm interested in exploring that, but my hero in that context is Chopin. I listen to him and sometimes he's so fast — so why does it also make me cry? I think it comes down to the artist's compassion. Does that shine through in the work?"

Neselovskyi has a sort of aesthetic test he applies to his own work. For example, with regard to the new album's frenetic opening cut, "On a Bicycle," he says, "It's a very fast piece and very difficult on the left hand. But when I was writing it, I slowed down and sang along to see if it still had that melodic song quality that's essential."

Maybe the best way to describe the innate aura that makes Neselovskyi's "Get Up and Go" so indelible is a sense of beauty and even melancholy regardless of song tempos.

He says, "There's a famous Alexander Pushkin line: the sadness is light. I'm a big fan of sadness. September and October. Why do those seasons resonate so much? It's the end of the cycle, but the colors of fall actually make me happy. Maybe our memories are conditioned to associate sadness with minor keys because that's the music we hear at times of sadness."

Neselovskyi pauses and thinks for a moment. "It's interesting. There are tribes in the world that celebrate funerals with up-tempo music and major key dancing. At the same time, I grew up in Odessa and the happy pop music of Ukraine or Russia is always in a minor key. A lot of Jewish music is bittersweet, written in heartbreaking minor keys, and yet there's exultation. In a way, you could say minor keys are there to make the major keys even stronger. We cannot live without the sad moments because otherwise the human experience would lack context. There's beauty in all of it."

If you go

If you go

Who: Vadim Neselovskyi Trio

When: 8 p.m. Friday

Where: Side Door Jazz Club, 85 Lyme St., Old Lyme

How much: $30

For more information: (860) 434-0886


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