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David GORDON Trio

Alexander Scriabin’s Ragtime Band






1.Praeludium Mysterium*

2.Alexander Scriabin’s Ragtime Band (Irving Berlin, Adapted D.Gordon)

3.Scriabin’s depressed

4.Cakewalk (Claude Debussy, adapted by D.Gordon)

5.Prelude for Both Hands

6.Famous Etude**

7.Tres Lindas Cubanas (danzón, Antonio Maria Romeu)


9.Choro Mazurka

10.El Pollito** (tango, Francisco Canaro)

11.Rootless Sonata*

12.Improbable Hip

13.Passinha (choro, Pixinguinha)


All tracks adapted from works by Alexander Scriabin and arranged by David Gordon unless otherwise stated.

David Gordon (piano), Jonty Fisher (double bass), Paul Cavaciuti (drums) *plus Calum Heath (guitar), **Yaron Stavi replaces Jonty Fisher on bass

rec.AIR Studios, ;London, UK on 9,10,20 July, 2015


I remember hearing Jacques Loussier for the first time and really enjoying the keen sense of fun that he managed to extract from Bach and encouraging the listener to hear the mighty 18th century composer in a different but nevertheless still reverent way. Others have also followed Loussier’s trailblazing path by re-examining other classical composers through a jazz prism. Now it is Dave Gordon’s turn. I was hugely impressed with Gordon’s disc Dave Gordon Trio speaks Latin and really need to hunt out his other three discs that came before that. For this disc he has focussed his attention on an unlikely subject, the composer-pianist and synaesthete Alexander Scriabin who once famously proclaimed “I am God”. To some Scriabin’s music is beyond reach, too ‘other worldly’, too complex or simply too ‘academic’. Once acquired, however, a taste for Scriabin is extremely rewarding, in fact infectious and who knows perhaps Dave Gordon can be the portal through which people who otherwise would remain unconvinced can find their way to Scriabin.

Raiding my CD shelves I cannot unfortunately compare all the original works with Gordon’s reworkings but there are some I can, including the opening piece the second prelude of the seven Scriabin wrote in 1914, intended to form part of his Prefatory Action to his gigantic Mysterium which he laboured over for 12 years but left incomplete on his death in 1915. This self-penned description of how the entire work would have been brought off gives some idea of his unusual take on the world: "There will not be a single spectator. All will be participants. The work requires special people, special artists and a completely new culture. The cast of performers includes an orchestra, a large mixed choir, an instrument with visual effects, dancers, a procession, incense, and rhythmic textural articulation. The cathedral in which it will take place will not be of one single type of stone but will continually change with the atmosphere and motion of the Mysterium. This will be done with the aid of mists and lights, which will modify the architectural contours." He intended this “happening” to take place during a whole week in the foothills of the Himalayas after which the world would end and the human race replaced by ‘nobler beings’. If he had lived to see what devastation the First World War wrought he would have been even more firmly convinced in his view that replacement was urgent. Dave Gordon weaves a seven minute piece from something that takes pianist Vladimir Feltsman less than a minute and a half to play. Marked Very slow, contemplative this tiny prelude is mysteriously ethereal and Gordon maintains that atmosphere and expands it and with the aid of electric guitar with manipulated note bending and some other electronic wizardry the strange nature of Scriabin is firmly established.

There could hardly be a more contrasting piece than what follows which is a real tongue-in-cheek reimagining of Irving Berlin’sAlexander’s Ragtime Band to become Alexander’s Scriabin’s Ragtime Band with witty words that include ‘His name was sash, he’s the one with the small hands and the ‘tache’ and ‘And if you wanna hear Scriabin’s music played as written then you’d better go, leave the show to Alexander’s Scriabin’s Ragtime Band’ . Great fun and a nice interlude after the mystery invoked in the first piece and the next entitled Scriabin’s depressed which takes as its point of departure Scriabin’s Prelude op.51, No.2 missing from my collection but is a nice typical jazz number which shows how good Gordon’s trio can be when they release themselves of any narrower restraint. Another fun piece follows with a jazz version of Debussy’s Gollywog’s Cakewalk included simply to point up the fact that Scriabin was apparently dismissive of Debussy though despite this that, according to Dave Gordon, both composers could have their ‘Wagner’ moments. It would have been fascinating had Scriabin created his version of it to show Debussy ‘how it should have been done’.

Dave Gordon explains that the Prelude for Both Hands which comes out of Scriabin’s Prelude for the left hand. op.9, no.2 was their impetus for the entire album. He says that the original ‘gave up its inner tango’ though I haven’t seen one done quite so slowly but as a piece for jazz trio it’s a sure winner. Another winner is his reworking of Scriabin’s Etude No.12 from his op.8 which emerges from Gordon’s pen as a Cuban-style rumba; Gordon wonders how that happened but it is obvious to me for it certainly ‘gave up’ its inner rumba while I listened to the original and this is the one that is most recognisably Scriabin who shines through Gordon’s jazz prism and justifies the whole album for me.

The next piece is a jazz version of Antonio Maria Romeu’s own composition and, like Irving Berlin’s song and the Debussy work plus one other piece, is included as an accompanying ‘timeline’ seeing as they all emerged around 1915, the year Scriabin died (from blood poisoning from a septic pimple on his upper lip caused by shaving). It is a real fun piece that bounces along in an infectious way and can’t help bring a smile to your face. Regrettably I also do not possess Scriabin’s Prelude op.56, no.3 because I would love to know what pointed Dave Gordon to a blues in ‘doo wop shuffle’ style; he says it is the dominant seventh chords a fourth apart but I’d like to hear it for myself. As it is it is another enjoyable little jazz romp. Gordon’s reimagining of Scriabin’s Mazurka op.25, no.3 gives us a melancholy choro which is a beautifully plaintive little piece.

The next item is by Francisco Canaro whose El Pollito was his watershed moment and which established him firmly on the Buenos Aires scene for the rest of his career. The Andante from Scriabin’s Sonata no.4, op.30 is given one of Gordon’s radical treatments and Gordon writes that he detected in this sonata the inspiration behind Bill Evans’ ‘left hand rootless voicing’. It is certainly the most laid back and dreamy piece on the disc giving Gordon the idea of exploiting its nature to the full in a delightfully gentle piece to emphasise its “breathless exuberance and sheer romantic gorgeousness”, enough said!

Improbable hip is Gordon’s title for his take on Scriabin’s Prelude op.67, no.2 marked Presto which is despatched in a mere 48 seconds on my disc played by Evgeny Zarafiants while Dave weaves a fulsome 6 minutes 50 out of it emerging as a fast paced number with a good deal of insistently repeated chords from Dave’s piano accompanied by percussive drumming from Paul Cavaciuti and Jonty Fisher’s anchoring bass. Brief as the original is the main theme is used throughout the jazz version and is detectable throughout; I must say it is really fascinating where it is possible to do as I did and compare the original with Dave’s and see where he got his ideas from.

There follows another South American piece, this time by the improbably named Pixinguinha (real name Alfredo da Rocha Viana, Jr.) whose mastery of choro music and rumba amongst others was becoming firmly rooted in his native Brazil around 1915 when he was a mere 18 years old showing what a prodigious talent he was and which is amply demonstrated by his Passinha another delightfully mournful little piece. The last track on the disc is given over to a reworking of Scriabin’s Mazurka, op.25, no.4, another missing from my collection and in Dave Gordon’s version becomes his River which meanders its way through almost 8 gorgeous minutes during which Dave Gordon’s light touch is a significant feature; this is a languid, gently flowing river rather than any turbulent rushing torrent. Beautifully paced this is a fitting end to a thoroughly enjoyable and totally imaginative view of a unique musical voice from the turn of the 19th century who has clearly woven his spell on a 21st century jazz pianist of immense talent and originality. Dave’s two regular trio members who provide essential backing are joined on one number each by Calum heath on guitar and Yaron Stavi on bass. The whole project is so rewarding and I urge lovers of Scriabin to give it a go and for jazz lovers to see if it encourages them to explore Scriabin; for people like me who adore both it is a real win-win situation!

Steve Arloff

The whole project is so rewarding...

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