By Nick Ostrum
Ilia Belorukov is a saxophonist and electroacoustic artist at the helm of a young and apparently vibrant experimental scene in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Over the last decade, he has worked his way through the wax and wane of the netlabel phenomenon to releases on more established independents such as Mikroton, Intonema (co-founded by Belorukov), Creative Sources, and, on this release, Clean Feed. Gabriel Ferrandini is the indefatigable Portuguese percussion wild-man who has become the go-to drummer of the Lisbon free jazz scene. I am not sure their paths have crossed before this collaboration. Listening to Disquiet, however, one might suspect that Belorukov and Ferrandini have been playing together for years.
Disquiet, was recorded in Saint Petersburg in mid-December 2017. Presumably, the local environs — a city with a deep, sometimes tragic history, an average December high temperature of just below freezing, and wintertime sunlight for just six hours per day — inspired the title. Though intricate and at times rather cold and metallic, however, the music conveys a feeling quite different from disquietude. Instead, it sounds like two musicians fighting to break through the ice and stultifying cold, generating their own energy and warmth in the process. Despite some darker undertones, this album sounds surprisingly light and vibrant. Ferrandini is as exploratory and concerted as ever. At times, (“Without Facts” and “The Big Passages”) he is restive and fierce. At others (“Fragmented Matter”) he plays with more restraint, focusing on more frugal combinations of sounds. For his part, Belorukov runs a similar gamut of composed but aggressive blowing to airier extended techniques and electronic manipulations that have become requisite for European improv. In fact, I have not heard Belorukov sound this muscular and mature before. He does not overblow. He does not rely on tricks simply to produce odd sounds or fill space. He deploys dynamics, but generally avoids the extreme quiet he has plumbed elsewhere. Rather, he and Ferrandini strike a compelling balance between the virtuosic and the confidently spare.
In short, Disquiet flows. It has its peaks of activity and verges on free blowing, though Belorukov never quite reaches that full-throttle abandon. It has its spacious troughs of sonic landscapes peppered with intermittent clangs, scrapes, shrieks, hums, and susurrations. Between these poles are the rolling slopes that form the mortar of the album. And, indeed, the strength of this album comes from that mortar rather than its exceptional moments. Despite its variety and frills, it remains contemporary, curious free jazz at its heart. And that is what makes it so gratifying.