Bayonne jazz composer unveils his latest work

Yuriy Galkin challenges listeners to rise above the times

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Yuriy Galkin
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The cover (Original art and graphic design by Nevena Binney)
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Yuriy Galkin
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The cover (Original art and graphic design by Nevena Binney)

The Bayonne Community News caught up with Bayonne resident Yuriy Galkin, a Russian-born jazz composer, who just released a new studio album as the leader of a quartet titled “…For Its Beauty Alone.”

The quartet features Galkin on bass; David Binney on alto saxophone (he also produced the album); Matt Mitchel on piano and a synthesizer called the Prophet 6; and Rudy Royston on drums.

“I wanted to make a record with David Binney for a long time,” Galkin said. “Dave is a great innovative musician and producer who always looks for something new in his projects, and, in my opinion, never compromises true art. I met Rudy Royston when he came to tour Russia, and Matt Mitchell was on many records I admired.”

The quartet boasts all the heady experimentation, technical prowess, and unfolding, seemingly boundless streams of consciousness you’d expect from the top jazz musicians in the New York City scene. The 12 songs, conceptually, provide important context for one another. The album is meant to be listened to from start to finish.

Galkin’s influences include contemporary classical, electronic, rock, hip-hop, experimental, and avant-garde. He challenged the notion of what is “allowed” in the genre.

The experimentation is in full force on tracks like “Camera Obscura,” featuring a synth in the lead that grinds, roars, and bellows noises akin to the sound effects in science fiction flicks.

“I love electronics,” Galkin said, noting that Binney and Mitchell are into it, as well. “As a composer, I like to use all available tools without limiting myself, well, if the musical context tells that this is a right time and place for it.”

Cats behind the Iron Curtain

Galkin was born and spent his childhood in Russia, in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union.

“The times were somewhat worse than uncertain,” Galkin said. “My folks didn’t want me to pursue a career in music. I was doing Master’s in Aeronautical Engineering, but never gave up music and in fact enrolled in the Gnesin Academy of Music in Moscow, the top jazz course in Russia.”

From an early age, Galkin was trained classically on the piano, which helped lay his foundation as a composer. He also developed his ear by being born to a family of musicians and attending his parents’ concerts and recitals. He soon gravitated toward bass, for its role as the core of musical structure. After playing in rock bands, Galkin pursued jazz for its less restrained qualities.

The leadership of the Soviet Union did not have an affinity for jazz, Galkin said, and for ages, jazz was forced to the cultural periphery.

“The real jazz was a very underground genre back in the Soviet Union, and also a genre of hipsters, different kind of hipsters, but close enough, and intelligent people who had a rebellious state of mind, well, in a way,” Galkin said.

Galkin said that while jazz was sometimes trashed by critics as an “evil, capitalist art,” it was appreciated by music lovers in Moscow and Saint Petersburg.

“Jazz wasn’t on the radio, television, in the newspapers, it wasn’t in the record stores,” Galkin said. “In other words, we were thoroughly prevented from any contact with this music, but many knew, however, that it existed and indeed was huge. Musically, they were shoveling down our throats ideology: friendly pop and patriotic stuff and classical music, again regimen-friendly, not Stravinsky, let alone post-World War II American composers and the like.”

After the Gnesin Academy, he moved on to the Royal Academy of Music in London, which is where his nine-piece orchestra was formed. Despite success there with the ensemble, Galkin was denied an artist’s visa. He returned to Russia, and launched more projects of his own and taught in college.

In 2017, he fulfilled his dream of moving to New York City, drawn by prominent musicians in the jazz scene.

Reflecting the present day

“…For Its Beauty Alone” is a reflection of Galkin’s search for beauty in the world.

“We live in a very peculiar and rather distressed time, I think,” Galkin said. “If we look at political, social, and other issues around us, it does get unclear sometimes how we still manage to get by without completely ruining it all. Yet, in all this chaos, cruelty, and selfishness, there is one thing left, the beauty of this world, the beauty of us as creatures.”

The album’s focus is on reclaiming values, with narrative musical themes that range from “dark to optimistic, from uncertain and perhaps angry back to love and kindness, as a mirror reflection of our life,” Galkin said.

The title track assumes three different shapes, one being an optimistic finale, which reflects Galkin’s optimistic worldview.

The album celebrates those who “did not sell out one way or the other, those who defended the truth, who stayed on their path to the end and who often paid a high or the highest price for that,” Galkin said. He did not mention specifics because he hopes listeners will fill in the blanks with their own examples while experiencing the music.

The Yuriy Galkin Quartet will play an official CD release concert at Smalls Jazz Club, 183 W 10th St., New York City, on Feb. 19, with two shows starting at 7:30 p.m. and 9 p.m.

It will also play at St. Peter’s Church, 619 Lexington Ave., New York City, on Dec. 29 at 6 p.m.

This is just the beginning.

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