2 for tea
Sergey Kuryokhin & David Moss
MP3: Just a rehearsal
By 1983, I'd heard his name for several years. We in the New York Improvising scene were always looking for soul-mates, musical partners, & sound-information from other countries. The rumors began trickling in to Morton St. (in the Village) that a pianist named Sergey Kuryokhin was playing wild music and organizing even wilder projects. But it wasn't until 1986 when I came to Berlin to play duos with drummer Peter Hollinger that we first met. It was just after the concert when I saw a guy with very black hair and shining eyes, wearing some kind of military-style jacket walk toward me. "David? David Moss?", he said. "I very happy to meet!" When I found out it was Sergey, we both laughed like crazy - to finally meet here, in Berlin, trying to communicate with his 20 words of English and my faded Russian from university days. But somehow we managed to talk - to share the idea that we wanted to learn about each other and somehow play together.
In September 1987, we met again in Berlin and he asked me to sing in his Berlin premiere of Pop Mechanika at the Tempodrome. "Just wear a black jacket and sun-glasses, and I'll tell you when to go onstage and sing", he told me. I arrived backstage at the Tempodrome (a semi-outdoor tent famous for rock music) the next night, ready for anything, and found a huge throng of musicians, Russian & German. There was Africa, Sergey's friend and performance artist, many people dressed in odd costumes, 10 saxophonist, heavy-metal guitarists (quite a few!) and god-knows who else. Sergey seemed nervous or full of intense energy, but that turned out to be quite normal for him.
The music began. Pounding drum beats, screaming saxophones, and rhythmic unisons and riffs from the guitarists. Africa tapped me on the shoulder and said, "Go" - I ran onstage and, standing in front of several thousand excited and confused Berliners, began to scream in 10 languages.
As I sang, a parade of Russian performance artists surrounded me with bouquets of flowers and live pigs cradled in their arms. I was in Sergey's world now. I sang until Sergey started a new section on the piano, then I walked off-stage, exhilarated. That was the first time.
I saw Sergey 2 or 3 times at different festivals after that, but our next musical meeting (out of which came this CD) was in Dec. 1988 in Miami, Florida at the New Music America Festival. Rumor had reached me that Sergey would be touring the US in December, so I called the Festival director and told him we had a unique opportunity to feature Sergey in a NMA festival. After a little arm-twisting, he agreed. I got the telephone # of Sergey's American tour manager from John Zorn, and called to arrange a solo for Sergey in Miami. That autumn, I spoke to Sergey, and he suggested that we also play a duo as part of his gig. I asked him if he would like to play with other American improvisers in the Festival; he wasn't too excited about the idea, but said "maybe OK I think about it". Sergey arrived in Miami with Alexander Kahn (producer, manager, translator). Our duo was scheduled in an intimate club that seated maybe 150. Meanwhile, the director of the festival was furious when he heard that Sergey wanted to play duo with me. Well, there was a lot of music-politics going on in those days, and to shorten a long story, the director thought I was getting too much exposure if I played a duo with Sergey in addition to my regular gig. Even though Sergey had invited me to play with him, the director was completely, irrationally oppose to the duo, and even threatened to close the club and cancel Sergey's concert. When I told this to Sergey and offered to drop the duo, Sergey refused, saying that either we play together (he didn't want to play with other musicians), or he would cancel. After many calls, threats, & demands from the director, the concert went on as originally planned. I remember just before the show, when tension was at its highest and the director threatened to call the police to pull us off the stage, Sergey said to me, "You know David, it's funny that there is more censorship and problems here in USA to play a concert than normally I have in Russia!" Yes, a funny & prophetic statement about the American culture scene.
Well, about the concert (the one you can hear oh this CD). We rehearsed a bit in the afternoon. Sergey had very strong ideas about what he wanted to play. I told him there were several things I could do well, several I couldn't do, and made a few suggestions about energy levels, speed, intensity and the interaction of our voices. We spent the rest of the radio sound-check practicing the piece that grew out of his ideas. All concerts for the festival were being either broadcast live or recorded by Miami Public Radio, and in charge was Steve Malagodi (the radio producer of this recording). We spent quite a while getting a non-distorted level for my voice
and electronics, but as you can hear, the sound-quality is generally better on the rehearsal segments. I think the engineers were afraid of getting too "hot" (or uncontrollable) a sound for the performance, and so they reduced the overall levels and lost some of the power that is audible in the rehearsals. As I mention on the rehearsal tapes, this was the only time I played with brushes for any music after 1975. It's surely the only time I was asked to lift a pianist's legs off the ground while he was playing and pull him away from the piano while we sang. Sergey wanted me to play various musical genres, from waltz to pseudo hip-hop, from operatic to lounge music, and so we did. I hadn't played these recognizable styles for years - but if Sergey wanted it, I was happy to do it. In the rehearsal segments, Sergey's commentes show the clarity of his thinking process and ideas.
Then came the concert. Sergey played a long solo that was beyond astonishing in its wealth of ideas and super-virtuosity. I remember thinking, as I was standing there in the back of the club, that Sergeysucceeded in surprising the audience by doing nothing that they expected or desired - none of the spatial attacks, fractured rock, or simplistic minimalism of American new music. It was pure Kuryokhin - intense, non-stop, overflowing with fantasy, referential to Russian folk music and European classical music, and definitely virtuoso Russian piano playing.
Then came our duo. The 12 minutes went by in a flash. Everything worked exactly as we'd planned and rehearsed (with a few surprises of course'). It was an incredible pleasure to play drums with Sergey - both of us had such power, and it felt great to mix it all together in downtown Miami, just a few weeks before Christmas, 1988. After the gig we hugged, and I told Sergey that it had been a dream of mine to play in Russia (my grandparents came from there, so I've always felt a pull), and I would love to do it with him. He said that was a wonderful idea and he hoped to find a way to make it happen.
1990, I was practicing in the basement of my house in Vermont when the telephone rang. It was Sergey calling from "Leningrad" inviting me to perform in the St. Petersburg Renaissance Festival - a marathon 24-hour benefit concert (including a 6 hour section of avant-garde performance) to be broadcast 'live' on Soviet television.
As I was about to take off from Kennedy Airport, my Russian contact handed me a package wrapped in plain brown paper to bring along. As I was told that the large parcel was a painting by Robert Rauschenberg - his gift and donation to the festival for the city of St. Petersburg, I must admit, it made me pretty nervous to be carrying a work by such a famous artist - but c'est la Russian vie - aand away I went on Aeroflot. Of course, I had asked how to get this thing through Customs and I was told to say simply, "to kartina", "this is a picture". And IT WORKED no problem, Moss and kartina into Russia. But then at the hotel I got a call from Sergey: "David, the avant-garde part of the festival has been canceled!" My god. I'm in Russia with nothing to do and nowhere to go!! But very quickly Sergey called back and said "Don't worry - you will play - the organizers of this festival have no idea what's going on I told them you will play in the ETHNIC section because you are really a very famous African Folk singer!!!!!" OK let's give it a try.
So we went to the Kirov theater where hundreds of costumed performers were milling around backstage (ps. I presented the Rauschenberg to the Mayor of St.Petersburg - Mr. Sobchak). Then after a classic baritone sang Russian songs, I was introduced as the famous African Folk Singer - and I began to sing: a 4-minute vocal solo filled with the intensity, power, and personal songs that are part of my voice - much to the consternation and surprise of the glitterati audience, who clearly had no idea what I was doing, or why. That was my premiere In Russia.
Meanwhile, Alexander Kahn had arranged a concert in a small theater where I played a solo section, and then a duo with Sergey. (I remember other musicians joining in, and a young child singing happily with us). This was a very emotional moment for me. I finally was able to sing my songs and melodies to an interested Russian audience and feel their strong response. Sergey played a small synthesizer keyboard, and we improvised together without any plans or words. I don't think any tape of this concert exists, but if there is one somewhere in St. Petersburg, I would love to hear it - because I'm sure we did some unexpected things together. Then, just before i left, Sergey invited me to sing, and to play some "found" percussion, on a sound-track he was making for a film. We met at a large well-equipped professional studio. Sergey played some tracks, I sang some melodies and noises, and overdubbed rhythm tracks on metal percussion (if anyone knows about this film, or can give me any information, I would appreciate it!). And that was the last time we played together.
In Oct. 1991 I moved to Berlin, and over the next few years met Sergey several times: at a CD shop, at the Akademie der Künste to talk about one of his pieces, at Natan Fedorovsky's Avant Garde Gallery. Each time he was full of ideas, and planning new projects, concerts, films.
Then in October 1995 I was playing at the LaMama club in Tokyo. Just before the gig I walked outside to relax and saw a line of people waiting to get in, and suddenly I heard that familiar voice say, "David!", and there was Sergey, standing with Keshavan Maslak (they were in the middle of a duo tour). I hustled them through the line and into the club and laughed in delight that Sergey and I were together again in another strange city. It was a great feeling to sing and drum with Sergey sitting in the audience. That was the last time I saw him.
David Moss, Berlin, Jan. 11, 1998
2 for tea:
Intro 1, 0:32
Nobody Nose, 38:37
Intro 2, 0:13
Two for Tea, 12:53
Bonus Track: Just a Rehearsal, 12:51
Sergey Kuryokhin, piano, voice
David Moss, drums, voice, electronics
recorded live December 9, 1988 at the
New Music America Festival in
Miami, Florida, USA
Igor Gurovich, design
LongArms Records CCDLA 980101
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