Jazz Moscow Art Trio Arnolfini, Bristol

'The group have a penchant for "yee-haws" and sundry cattle-wrangling cries'
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The Independent Culture
Expecting, quite unfairly, three men with enormous beards performing the aural equivalent of a long and sombre Tarkovsky film, only to find some of the most lively and entrancing music of the year, was the biggest surprise at this wonderful concert. True, there were beards - two and not very big - and a few Dadaist ventures into farmyard noises, but the music was startlingly rich and melodic. Within minutes you were aware of being in the presence of something extraordinarily good; by the end, you wondered if there was anything better - in Moscow or anywhere else.

The group, led by pianist Mikhail Alperin (who now lives in Norway), is an attempt at conjuring up a dream, he says, "of Moldavian square-dance musicians at a countryside wedding performing a Beethoven sonata". To say that they are a fusion of jazz, classical and folk influences falls well wide of the mark, and brings to mind the spectre of those sombre men with beards again. In fact, the music is quite of a piece, though in it one can hear echoes of the pianist Keith Jarrett's sublime rhapsodies, plus classical allusions (the horn player Arkady Shilkloper was a member of the Bolshoi and Moscow Philharmonic, and Alperin was classically trained) and a strong undertow of the Wild West. The latter may come about partly through singer and clarinet player Sergey Starostin's experience in Russian folk music - the group have a penchant for ecstatic "yee-haws" and sundry cattle-wrangling cries. Even Alperin's piano-playing brings to mind the wide open spaces of the prairies through its rolling measures of boogie- woogie.

Accompanying himself with vocal grunts (far more musical than Jarrett's sub-vocal throat-clearing) and scat singing, Alperin plays the piano with a beguiling economy of means. Shilkloper's playing on tenor and French horn goes for military, last post-ish sonorities, though he can get alarmingly fast -- while Starostin's vocal chants, clarinet warblings and odd ram's horn solos supply the subfusc mournful cries from the heart of the steppes.

Unlike other European groups who aim at a home-made, "poor theatre" type of music (the Clusone Trio would be the exception to the rule), the Moscow Art Trio don't have to try to sound Post-Modern - they just are, and in a way that makes what they play, and the context of performance which underpins it, look and sound both utterly contemporary and timeless. Tarkovsky, no; Paradjanov (the Armenian director of The Colour of Pomegranates), yes. Once word gets out, they will be the band to book for every festival going.

n The Moscow Art Trio play Manchester, RNCM (0161-273 4504), Thurs; Edinburgh, Queen's Hall (0131-668 2019), Fri; London, Purcell Room (0171-960 4242), Sat.