Well just over a week has passed since I was at a concert at Art Club 44 in the heart of Kyiv. It was on Halloween night, and like many places the staff at that establishment were all ghouled up… Like any other thing here in Ukraine, if it can be commercially feasible, then go along with it, and Halloween is no different, no matter what the Russian Orthodox Church’s take on the day is.
The band performing and its musicians can be considered dinosaurs when compared to many of the bands that have developed in the last five years here in Ukraine, however, this should be understood in a positive sense. On July 24, 2007 Braty bluzu held a 15th Anniversary Reunion gig, and more than a year has passed since then and given I was in Montreal for business at that time, I will not be able to compare that gig to this last one. All I can say is, that it was different than what I had ever experienced from Braty bluzu before.
Having arrived at 44 at about 21:40 there was already no where to sit, except right next to the stage, well that wasn’t even sitting, it was leaning against a pillar. I was expecting to be joined by a couple of friends and wondered where they would fit in. About ten minutes prior to when the show was to start I first saw Myroslav Levytsky, lead man and composer for the group, and in a short time his brother Oleh wandered by. I gave him my hand and embraced him… and congratulated him on the birth of his daughter, his first child, at the beginning of June of this year. It didn’t take him long to pull out his phone to show me pictures of her. Clearly a very proud father!
Not far behind in his footsteps was Serhiy Taftay, who now spends his time between my home of Montreal and Ukraine. Serhiy greeted me, “Bonjour, ça va?” and then said to me, “What about those Habs!” Referring to the Montreal Canadians hockey team. Blair, if you are reading this… our fellow Canadian Jason, said that Serhiy reminds him of you… but of course with a little more hair and bushier eye brows. But nonetheless a Habs fan!
The next of the band members I ran into was a relative newcomer to Braty bluzu, but old friend of mine Vitaliy Savenko, and former bass player with Gaytana. “Of course, where else would I run into you?” said Vitaliy as he shook my hand.
In a sprightly rhythm Andriy Vintsersky the group’s drummer bounded by Vitaliy and I but not with out shaking my hand and smiling as he bound up on to the stage and started to set up his high-hat. Vinnia as his friends call him is a powder keg of energy for his small stature. I stand a head and a bit taller than him!
Then to top it all off I saw a familiar face. It is hard to even express what it meant for me to see Zakhar Valaha! Now I must digress in order for those of you who are not familiar with the history of the band. In the beginning, the group’s front man was Andriy Valaha, Zakhar’s father. In 1993 after receiving the Grand Prix at the Chervona Ruta Festival in Donetsk, and while still in Donetsk, Andriy Valaha suffered an aneurysm, as a result Andriy would never play with his fellow musicians again. Though a few years ago Myroslav Levytsky asked Zakhar to join him on the occasions when Kyrylo Stetsenko, grandson of the famous Ukrainian composer, was not available to join the group to play violin.
Having, stayed with Andriy Valaha in Kalush, Ukraine in 2001, I could only imagine what it must mean to him for Myroslav to bring his son in to play with his former fellow brothers in arms.
Well, maybe these digressions are a little to much for some of you so I will get on with the gig itself, but at the same time they are important in understanding the history of the contemporary Ukrainian music scene.
As the first set opened, there was a sound that I was not expecting! I finally had a feeling that I had done the right thing in both morally and financially assisting Myroslav Levytsky in attending a Professional Development session at the Banff Centre in the winter of 2004. I listened and thought to myself, “This has to be the influence of Jeffery Goldberg under whom Myroslav had studied at Banff!”
As the first set continued there were a lot of surprises, the interplay of keyboards, saxophone, guitar and bass surprised me. It was a totally new shape, a new pentagon of sound. With girls in their early twenties moving and grooving to the music, clearly indicated to me that there was new generation of people in Ukraine with a different taste in music, and thank goodness.
Somewhere, with a few tunes left in the first set, my friend Jason showed up. As a musician, I could clearly see that he was was enjoying what he was hearing.
During the break between the first and second sets, I introduced Jason to the musicians. Clearly, there was an appreciative tone in his voice toward them, as well as from others, that Myroslav said to me this morning, “people I have never seen before.”
As the second set began, I began to hear compositions I was familiar with, including a different arrangement of Vienna Woods which I was witness to the birth of in June of 2001 at Bizzy Man Studio run by Rens Newland. Unlike the pastoral sound recorded for the first time in Vienna, this arrangement with Taftay on guitar had a totally different ring to it.
As usual, Oleh Levytsky was applauded by all for his sax work, and during the second set the younger Valaha had an opportunity to demonstrate the skills that his father had passed on to him, if not through a lot of hard work, it was clearly genetically.
I truly hope that the materials of the first set make it into studio… A new shape in an new era is what Braty bluzu needs.
So some of you are probably wondering why it took me a week to write this… Let’s just say I needed to consult with Levytsky about his first set…