Provocateur Pianist Journeys From Ukraine to Brooklyn and Back

Vadim Neselovskyi Poised on Brink of Jazz Stardom

Piano Man: Vadim Neselovskyi recently returned from a tour of Russia.
Wolfgang Kleber
Piano Man: Vadim Neselovskyi recently returned from a tour of Russia.

By Phillip Lutz

Published December 19, 2013, issue of December 20, 2013.
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“The feeling was of leaving everything behind,” he said, “best friends, the conservatory I loved so much, the city I’m still in love with, Odessa, and going to this new world.”

With the Jewish community growing again, he could continue his studies, in Essen, and begin to build a career. Today, his profile is rising in Germany, most notably, perhaps, as a soloist and as a duo partner with Shilkloper. But more than a decade ago, even as he was winning local competitions and playing festivals, the prospects seemed less certain. So, armed with a scholarship from a German academic exchange, he set out for America, landing at Berklee, where he was championed by Burton, the school’s executive vice president. When, in 2004, it came time for Burton to retire from his executive post and form his group of young players, the Generations Band, he asked Neselovskyi to be his pianist.

Burton, who has called Neselovskyi a “genius” in liner notes to an album, said he was consistently surprised by the pianist’s willingness to take chances.

“His playing is fearless,” Burton said.

Taken by Neselovskyi’s gift, Burton worked up arrangements of the pianist’s tunes that he plays in his sets. At the Berklee concert in November, Burton offered a new treatment of Neselovskyi’s “Late Night Sunrise,” which appears on the latter’s “Last Snow” CD.

The concert was a reunion for Burton and Neselovskyi, who now teaches piano at Berklee two days a week. After Burton disbanded the Generations Band, the pianist took a detour to New Orleans, where he spent time at the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, garnering the top prize in the institute’s 2010 International Jazz Composers Competition with an extended work, “Grust.” The title means sadness in Russian.

From New Orleans, he made his way to New York, where he came under the sway of the renowned pianist Fred Hersch, who produced Neselovskyi’s album “Music for September,” a solo effort released last year that synthesized jazz, classical and popular tunes.

Seated at the piano, a shock of black hair bobbing to the beat, he launched into one of those tunes, the bebop-derived “Birdlike.” Rendering the melody with his left hand and improvisations with his right, he produced a contrapuntal quality that recalled his take on authentically baroque numbers such as Bach’s Sinfonia in G minor, which is also on the album.

Neselovskyi’s approach is evident with his current group, Agricultural Dreams. The group, whose name is intended to recall Russian rock bands, uses piano, violin, classical guitar, bass, drums and wordless vocals to create what Neselovskyi called “orchestral music in a jazz-like setting.”

Since its first run of concerts a year ago, the band has revealed a predilection for long forms and intricate patterns. Tammy Scheffer, one of two Israeli expatriates in the group, said that their approach “looks technical but is very lyrical.”


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