The greatest jazzers the Soviet Union has to offer dropped into Salt Lake City on Wednesday, and by the time they quit 21/2 hours later they had a once-skeptical crowd of about 300 people hooting, standing and clapping for more.
Held together by the playful wit of Soviet jazz critic Alexey Batashev - who likely came along only because he speaks English - the Igor Bril Quartet succeeded partly because they didn't try to take themselves too seriously and, more importantly, because of the brilliant talent of pianist Igor Bril.Bril, who grew up loving jazz and almost was kicked out of music school after a teacher caught him playing "boogie-woogie," dazzled the audience with original compositions that blended a classical style with just the right touch of saucy chords. The style was reminiscent of Oscar Peterson.
The show's climax came when Bril, playing a blues solo, coaxed spectators into rhythmic hand-claps, playfully tripping them up at one point after luring them into staccato claps at the end of each musical phrase.
Following the piece, Batashev drew laughs by saying, "As a musicologist, I have to say that was authentic black Russian blues."
Batashev laced this type of humor throughout the show, setting the audience at ease. This was not a Russian attempt to beat Americans at their own game, pulling off a victory such as the Soviet basketball team earned at the Summer Olympics.
"We don't come here to conquer you," Batashev said in introducing the group. "We just want to share our joy to this music."
But Batashev was not above poking fun at his hosts.
"When I heard we would be in Salt Lake City, Utah, it seemed to me kind of strange," he said. "Then I thought, Soviet jazz goes Mormon. Why not?"
He welcomed the crowd back from intermission by wryly commenting on the state's liquor laws.
"Thanks for staying with us," he said. "The beverage supply in Utah is very good. We've heard a great deal about that."
But, compared to Bril, Batashev's humor did little to warm the audience. By the end of the show, Bril had shared a talent that could melt nuclear warheads.
Bril was complemented by saxaphonist Alexander Oseichuk, who lent cohesion to the group. Victor Dvoskin brought rare energy to the bass. As Batashev deadpanned in broken English, "There are many talks about Soviet atomic bases. Victor is at least one bass we don't want to reduce."
Alexey Kuznetsov also showed why he is considered the Soviet Union's leading guitarist, treating the crowd to his own interpretation of George Gershwin.
Utahns are among the chosen few to view the quartet in its first-ever trip to the United States. Booked by the Salt Lake-based Space Agency, the group's only other concerts will be in New York, Washington, D.C., and Boston.