One of the high points in my “virtual concert” experiences took place in November of 2020, when the Piano Break series of streamed recitals presented by the Ross McKee Foundation offered a solo recital by pianist Alison Lee. This recital was particularly memorable for concluding with Nikolai Kapustin’s Opus 41 set of variations. Since she offered no commentary, I do not know whether Lee was aware that Kapustin had died on July 2 of that same year. She had clearly wanted to offer a wide window of diversity, and her repertoire for that program reached back to Ludwig van Beethoven and extended to Scott Joplin and beyond. The “beyond” was her Kapustin selection.
When I first began to extend the scope of my writing from the classical genre into jazz, I liked to joke that jazz was chamber music by other means. Over the course of his work as a composer, Kapustin seemed to suggest that his own motto was that chamber music was jazz by other means. The theme for the Opus 41 variations was taken from the opening measures of Igor Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring;” and Kapustin’s imaginative approach to writing variations definitely earned its place in the repertoire for piano recitals. However, the most informed listeners were those aware of the history of piano jazz, rather than just the history of “serious” recital music. Those listeners would have no trouble identifying references to Count Basie and Erroll Garner; and those with more adventurous tastes would probably add Cecil Taylor to the mix.
Obi Jenne, Jakob Krupp, and Frank Dupree playing the music of Nikolai Kapustin on the cover of their new album (courtesy of Naxos of America)
One week from today, Vienna-based Capriccio plans to release a new album whose full title is BLUEPRINT: Piano Music for Jazz Trio. All of the selections were composed by Kapustin, and many of them were arranged for jazz piano trio by the Frank Dupree Trio. Dupree leads this trio from the piano, and the other members are Jakob Krupp on bass and Meinhard “Obi” Jenne on drums. While Amazon.com can usually be counted upon to process pre-orders, they seem to be blissfully ignorant of this release. Those interested in pre-ordering the album can do so through the Presto Music Web page for the album; but since Presto is based in the United Kingdom, delivery may take longer than one would expect from Amazon.
The metadata provided for this album may have more than a few accuracy problems. However, it suggests that two of the works were explicitly composed for a jazz piano trio. These are the eight “concert studies” collected as Opus 40 and the 24 “jazz preludes” of Opus 53. Both of these collections are excerpted for the BLUEPRINT album, four from Opus 40 and twelve from Opus 53. All of the other tracks account for individual compositions arranged collaboratively by the trio and all assigned Kapustin’s opus numbers.
My guess is that all of the selections on this album were through-composed, meaning that none of the trio players are given opportunities to explore invented improvisations. That speculation is based on a quote that Dupree provided:
Kapustin uses jazz as his musical language and then composes quasi-improvisations that sound as though they stemmed right from Oscar Peterson’s or Errol Garner’s fingers. [Yes, readers can, if they wish, add Peterson to the above list of adventurous jazz pianists, particularly if they are familiar with The Timekeepers!] He is one of the few who were able to have the strictures of composition and liberty of improvisation come together to such an organic whole.
That may sound a bit like “fan-boy exaggeration;” but I doubt that anyone could come up with a better assessment of Kapustin’s aesthetic foundations. As is the case with recordings by Peterson and Taylor, one needs to listen to any of these tracks multiple times before mind feels “comfortable with the auditory stimuli,” so to speak. Having listened to this album several times myself, my real hope is that I shall be able to listen to at least some of this music performed in concert.