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      Leningrad 1980s

• Sergey Kuryokhin and Pop Mekhanika – all documents
• Сергей Курёхин и Поп-механика – все документы

Sergey Kuryokhin: Improvisations and Performances

by Hannelore Fobo, September 2017

Part One

Sergey Kuryokhin and Friends: Leningrad Collective Improvisations 1983

• page 1 • Preliminary Remarks

• page 2 • Hans Kumpf and Sergey Kuryokhin

• page 31980-1981: the first meetings

• page 4 • Leningrad Collective Improvisations 1983: pictures and text

• page 5 • Timur Novikov and Ivan Sotnikov: the Utiugon

• page 6 • Leningrad Collective Improvisations 1983: music and audio recording (4min 12s fragment).

• page 7 • Hans Kumpf: description of the first part (German / English)

• page 8 • Sergey Kuryokhin: Introduction (4min 37s) to the first part. Voice recording and transcription with English translation

• page 9 • Sergey Kuryokhin: introductions to the second part. Transcription with English translation and six audio fragments

• page 10 • Reference list

Part Two

Pop Mekhanika in the West

Part One:

• page 2 • Hans Kumpf and Sergey Kuryokhin

Between 1980 and 1990 German clarinetist and journalist Hans Kumpf travelled to the Soviet Union seven times. Kumpf was familiar with the international jazz scene and contemporary music and published his interviews with Cecil Taylor, John Cage, Ornette Coleman and others in the German magazine “Jazz Podium” and his book “Postserielle Musik und Free Jazz”[1]. But Kumpf, himself an excellent clarinetist,[2] was also interested in making discoveries in what had remained “terra incognita” for most Westerners: the so-called Eastern block.

Relying on his own contacts and his ability to evade Soviet state-imposed restrictions, Kumpf became the first Western Free Jazz musician who repeatedly played with important Jazz musicians in Leningrad, Moscow and the Baltic republics, among them Vyacheslav Ganelin, Vladimir Tarasov[3] and Leonid Chizhik. And on each trip, with the exception of his 1990 visit to Moscow, he met and played with Sergey Kuryokhin.

For Kumpf, the first five travels – between 1980 and 1984 – were especially prolific, leading to a large number of photographs, articles and interviews at radio stations, but also to several records he released on his own label. Thanks to his “undercover” gigs with his Soviet colleagues, the Western audience got to know that a free jazz scene existed “behind the iron curtain”, unheard of in the pre-Perestroika period.

Two more encounters with Sergey Kuryokhin took place in 1988 (Leningrad / Tallinn)[4] and in 1989 at the Internationales New Jazz Festival at Moers, Germany. At Tallinn and Moers, Kuryokhin’s presented his Pop Mekhanika concerts, but Kumpf still had the opportunity to improvise with him separately.

Sergey Kuryokhin and Alexander Lyapin during a Pop Mekhanika performance
Internationales New Jazz Festival, Moers 1989 • Photo: Hans Kumpf

Leo Feigin (center, with white shirt), Sergey Kuryokhin, Vladimir Tarasov and Alexander Lyapin
before a concert at the Internationales New Jazz Festival, Moers 1989 • Photo: Hans Kumpf

In this way, the German clarinetist has been the only foreign musician who kept in touch and played with Kuryokhin for ten years – a considerable period of time. It allowed him to follow up the pianist’s development from an introvert to an “expressive artist”, as Kumpf wrote in 1997 – using the term “artist” in the sense of an acrobatic performer.[5] His pictures from 1988 show Kuryokhin on top and under a grand piano.

Sergey Kuryokhin
Leningrad 1988 • Photo: Hans Kumpf

For a researcher of Leningrad’s alternative (“underground”) art and music scene of the 1980s, Kumpf’s documents on Sergey Kuryokhin are of great value. Kuryokhin had been one of the leading figures in this not very large scene of young people. They were related to each other by numerous “points of contact”, of which Kuryokhin’s Pop Mekhanika concerts constituted a hub.

In a separate article, I will discuss Kumpf’s position towards “Pop Mekhanika”. The main subject of this article, however, refers to the period prior to the Pop Mekhanika concerts. Perhaps it would be better to say that it relates to a transition period, when Kuryokhin was gradually moving from music to performance, and from a highly talented band member to an undisputed leader of his own musical show.

It is certainly of great advantage that Kumpf’s private archive – of which the “Soviet period” constitutes only a small part – is very well organised. Articles are supplied with date and place of publication. Descriptions of pictures include years and often months, as well as the names of the main persons, and the same goes for interviews and audio files.

But what makes this archive particularly interesting from today’s point of view is the fact that Kumpf documented one single event with a variety of media. The Leningrad Collective Improvisations, which will be presented here in detail, were organised by Kuryokhin on the occasion of Kumpf’s visit in August 1983. The German guest was one of twelve musicians, artists and poets participating at the session: Vladimir Boluchevsky (Владимир Болучевский, 1954-2013), Igor Butman (Игорь Бутман, 1961), Arkady Dragomeshenko (Аркадий Драгомощенко, 1946-2012), Vyacheslav Gayvoronsky (Вячеслав Гайворонский, 1947), Boris Grebenshikov (Борис Гребенщиков, 1953), Alexander Kondrashkin (Александр Кондрашкин, 1956-1999), Hans Kumpf (1951), Sergey Kuryokhin (Сергей Курёхин, 1954-1996), Sergey Letov (Сергей Летов, 1956), Timur Novikov (Тимур Новиков, 1958-2002), Ivan Sotnikov (Иван Сотников, 1961-2015;) and Vladimir Volkov (Владимир Волков, 1960).[6]

Kumpf documented the meeting with photos and on a music cassette, but he also discussed it in an article published in Stuttgarter Nachrichten the same month [7] more>>. In 1986, it was reprinted in English (without pictures) in Leo Feigin’s book “Russian Jazz: New Identity” as part of Kumpf’s essay “My trips to Russia“.[8] more>>

Generally speaking, print and online publications about Sergey Kuryokhin make ample use of Hans Kumpf’s pictures. Examples are the presentation of Alexander Kan’s biography on Sergey Kuryokhin from 2012 (“Snob” magazine, online[9] ) and Alexander Kushnir’s biography on Sergey Kuryokhin from 2013.[10]

On the other hand, publishers often dispense with information about the exact place and date of the shooting and sometimes with even more basic information. Here is an example of one of Kumpf’s portraits of Sergey Kuryokhin and Boris Grebenshikov, printed on the cover of Alexander Kan’s book from 2008. The book, Пока не начался Jazz [The moment Jazz started][11] is dedicated to the Soviet Jazz scene of the 1970s and 1980s. The imprint simply states “В оформлении использованы фотографии из архива Лео Фейгина и из личного архива автора” [cover pictures from the archives of Leo Feigin and the author].

Sergey Kuryokhin and Boris Grebenshikov
Outside the “Club 81”, Leningrad, 1983 • Photo: Hans Kumpf

Hans Kumpf's picture on the cover of Alexander Kan's book from 2008 Пока не начался Jazz [The moment Jazz started]

In the article “Sergey Kuryokhin: Improvisations and Performances”, pictures and texts have been set into their historical context, and original material has been provided with all relevant information. Published here for the first time are fragments from Kumpf’s 1983 audio recording more>>. He carefully archived the cassette, but only in 2017, when I asked him about old recordings with Sergey Kuryokhin, digitalised the material. As far as I know, no other recording of the 1983 improvisations has been published to this day, and it is very likely that Hans Kumpf's cassette recording is the only one that survived.

Voice passages from the recording have been transcribed and translated into English more>> and more>>. On my request, Hans Kumpf wrote a concise analysis of the first forty minutes of the Leningrad Collective Improvisations more>>. Sound fragments from the audio file serve as examples for these improvised musical encounters and demonstrate the broad spectre of musical concepts. One fragment presents the sound of the utiugon, an instrument invented by Timur Novikov and Ivan Sotnikov. It is possibly the only audio recording of the original instrument, the sound of which is now known through utiugon replicas from later years more>>.

In this way, sound, image and text now complete each other. While the pictures help us to understand who produced which part of the music, the text gives us an idea of how the performance was perceived by a visitor from the West, a professional musician familiar with free music improvisations.

In other words, I have tried to structure the material in such a way that it becomes accessible to musicologists – they will be able to analyse it further. Hans Kumpf hasn’t yet made up his mind about a complete release of the recording, which lasts over an hour, but I think that provided interest, this shouldn‘t be too difficult to be carried out. Taking into consideration that Kumpf’s archive holds another unpublished recording from a similar Leningrad jam session in spring 1984 more>>, there is substantial – and rare – material allowing us to gain insight into the nature of free jazz improvisations in Leningrad’s pre-perestroika period.

next: • page 31980-1981: the first meetings >>

[1] Kumpf, Hans. Postserielle Musik und Free Jazz: Wechselwirkungen und Parallelen; Berichte, Analysen, Werkstattgespräche. Döring, 1976, and 2nd edition, Rohrdorfer Musikverlag, 1981

[2] In 1979, Hans Kumpf was voted No. 5 in the clarinet category of the “Top People Poll” run by Jazz Forum, the International Jazz Federation magazine. See Russian Jazz: New Identity. Edited by Leo Feigin, London: Quartet Books, 1986 p. 68

[3] On A Baltic Trip, Hans Kumpf with Vyacheslav Ganelin, Vladimir Tarasov, Ivars Galenieks, Lembit Saarsalu, Rejn Rannap. Leo Records, 1984

[4] At that point Kumpf could join musicians officially, and his name was printed on concert posters. 

[5] “Lernte ich Kuryokhin anfangs als einen eher introvertierten Menschen kennen, so hatte er sich zwischenzeitlich zu einem expressiven Artisten gewandelt.” Kumpf, Hans. “Enfant terrible“ und Superstar: Erinnerungen von Hans Kumpf, Jazz Pages 1st September 1997, http://jazzpages.com/kumpf/ku_kury.html

[6] The transliteration of Russian names is non-uniform. I have chosen the commonly used transliterations.

[7] Der Rock 'n' Roll ist tot, aber ich nicht. Eine Reise in den musikalischen Untergrund der Sowjetunion 

von Hans Kumpf. Stuttgarter Nachrichten, 26 August 1983

[8] Kumpf Hans. “My trips to Russia” In Russian Jazz: New Identity, 68-84. Translated from the German, by Christa Kuch and Martin Cooper. Edited by Leo Feigin, London: Quartet Books.

The chapter is called “Leningrad (August 1983)”, pp. 78-81. The article was also quoted in Russian in Alexander Kan’s biography on Sergey Kuryokhin from 2012. See next footnote.

[9] Кан, Александр [Kan, Alexander / Aleksandr]. “Курехин. Шкипер о Капитане. Отрывок из книги [Kuryokhin. The Skipper about the Captain. Excerpt from the book]. “Snob” magazine, 2 November 2012. https://snob.ru/selected/entry/54272 [Accessed 12 August, 2017]

[10] Кушнир, Александр [Kushnir, Alexander / Aleksandr]. Сергей Курехин. Безумная механика русского рока, [Sergey Kuryokhin. The Crazy Mechanics of Russian Rock] Moscow: BMM, 2013

[11] Кан, Александр [Kan, Alexander / Aleksandr]. Пока не начался Jazz , [The moment Jazz started], Saint Peterburg: Amfora, 2008


Russian names: Александр Ляпин, Александр Кан, Александр Кан, Лео Фейгин, Александр Кушнир, утюгон, [Ханс Кумпф]

Last updated 27 March 2018