Several years ago, the saxophonist Vytautas Labutis talked in an interview about the potential of the record industry in a small market (like Lithuania, for example) and said that perhaps the only way to liven it up would be to create a common area for the music business with the two other Baltic states of Latvia and Estonia. And for many years it seemed impossible to create a need for the production of recordings in a small country, and that making albums was a matter for individual nightingales who could not not sing…
What happened? Where did that come from? Perhaps, with the development of technologies, releasing a recording became simpler? I asked the bass guitarist Domas Aleksa, who last year came out with his third album, whether from his debut in 2012 up till today releasing recordings has become more accessible to musicians. No, it hasn’t. Andrei Polevikov (who also has three albums in his discography), on hearing a similar question, presented information to show that the opposite was true: in certain aspects releasing recordings has become more difficult with an increase, due to inflation, in the cost of certain services.
One of the motivating factors could be the fact that the launch of a new album attracts attention, provides an opportunity for a concert tour, and serves as a business card for the collective. However, amongst the recordings put out over recent years we can find those that don’t necessarily accurately represent a group’s activities.
Sheep Got Waxed distils its essential material in its albums and later on the road in concerts it goes on to increasingly modify it and distance itself from the primary version. In the last two recordings by Domas Aleksa there is a plethora of technically manipulated sounds and for that reason the versions in live performances are markedly different from those captured on the recordings. Andrei Polevikov’s programme from the collection Ethnic Mood can be (and has been) recreated in concert but in its content and number of participants it is not orientated to an intensive tour of clubs, and so the thought occurs to me that the album was of greater concern to the author than the opportunity to explore his new programme on stage. So, an album – as an instrument for the dissemination of music, one which requires a considerable outlay and eats up a lot of energy – for some musicians is put together and regarded as a completely autonomous work of art with its own specific purpose.
On the local scene Giedrius Nakas also has access to great rhythm and wind instrument players, as well as vocalists, in order to disseminate his work, but a recording with prominent American musicians is a different ball game. Firstly, by gathering around him such an illustrious company, the young musician painted himself into a corner and there was nothing for it but to reach for the sky – a useful self-motivating experience, a leap out of his comfort zone. Secondly, he created conditions in which his compositions would sound authentic, with him melding with the performers whose musical medium is the ideal of his sound and the essential source of his inspiration. Thirdly, in sitting down to play with Brown and Williams, Giedrius Nakas condemned himself in comparisons firstly with Gerald Clayton and other American pianists who play with the same rhythm section. He doesn’t avoid this comparison and isn’t afraid of it because there is no reason for a musician who is confident in his identity and creative intentions to be afraid.
Even though New York wasn’t stormed by it, another debut recording of 2017 by the phenomenon that is Reinless would be perfectly understood there, one that resonates with the directions taken by new contemporary fusion. The group’s leader is Jievaras Jasinskis – a composer who is on his way, on a journey of self-fulfilment and self-discovery. At present the public knows, and so does he, that he is capable of leading a collective of any kind, to infect them with his energy, to create an amazing atmosphere while performing and arranging orchestral scores. Musicians are still sometimes surprised when they come across the skill of Jievaras’s instrumentation, when they see that their parts are set out in a way that is convenient for them and at the same time are technically precise, a good fit for their instrument and the abilities of the person playing that instrument. We would even dare to affirm that this composer, knowing the musicians he works with, creates work for each of them personally on the Ellingtonian principle. Reinless is a compact mini-orchestra, an octet, Jievaras Jasinskis’s creative laboratory, taking the ideas arising there into other – larger – ensembles: the Kaunas Bigband led by him, the select all-star Lithuanian Jazz Orchestra, or even a chamber orchestra. His debut album Sus Signal presents a very small slice of the spectrum of his wide creative activity, but it wasn’t the author’s intention to paint a detailed self-portrait. First and foremost, the collection showcases Reinless as a tasteful, modern ensemble of remarkable energy, one which in concerts displays ten times more energy that it is possible to fit in on a CD, and one from which it is normal to expect surprises.
Putting aside the provocative name, Brave Noises are more protective of their listeners nervous system than, for example, their colleagues Džiazlaif, who in March of this year shook up Lithuania’s musical reality with their debut recording. They stun and do that by using out-and-out physical force: with huge dynamic contrasts and a force of sound which it is hard to believe is possible to get out of only six musical instruments. In contrast to the earlier mentioned projects, this is grounded in collective creativity: Kazimieras Jušinskas, Arminas Bižys, Danielius Pancerovas, Paulius Vaškas, Aurelijus Užameckis and Ignas Kasikauskas are all composers and they put their opuses into a common pot. All the members improvise, and their sound can be said to be connected more with the aesthetics of free jazz but the most impressive unexpected effects achieved by them are in fact through the composition which is witty, smart and, of course, completely free of dogma – a manifesto of young people who have forgotten to consult a textbook.
On the one hand, durable and long-lasting vinyl is gaining ground in the record industry, on the other hand – the opportunities to disseminate music presented by the ephemeral and intangible internet are being employed. All the popular listening platforms: Spotify, iTunes, Amazon Music, SoundCloud and others are, of course, tools, most often used to popularize albums released in a physical form, but sometimes they become also the main and only form of the life of a collection – this was true in the case of Giedrius Nakas’s first set of recordings, created quite a while before No Fear Full of Love, this is the road taken by The Schwings, a group cultivating music in the early styles of jazz, putting out recordings virtually and one after another – and in this way communicating with their audience and keeping their finger on the pulse by providing up-to-date information about themselves on Facebook.
All of that means that it’s becoming a little simpler to hear Lithuanian jazz. It’s beginning to circulate in the gigantic stream of virtual platforms on offer, and the most important thing is that the panorama of recordings is starting to reflect better the everyday existence of this scene, its present reality, and not just individual, unique achievements. The release of an album is a large-scale effort, requiring not just talent and good visions, but also a strong will, managerial input, time and material resources. But, despite all that, performers nowadays are not putting off this work until the moment they feel themselves to be mature enough and have an idea worthy of being preserved on a stone tablet. They step into a studio whenever they have the opportunity and a batch of new music. And our ears are regaled with the amazing fruits of this healthy bravery.
Translated from the Lithuanian by Romas Kinka