The Netherlands 2004, "Background Magazine", text by David McConnell
The bands from Ufa was «Orlan» ('Eagle'), formed in 1984 by saxophonist Oleg Kirejev, who had finished music school as a pianist but college as a saxophonist - a deliberate choice - and whose jazz career was simultaneously launched with his «Orlan» project. The band's first live appearances were at festivals in the cities of Kuybyshev (now Samara) and Cheboksary, which were relatively close to Ufa, and fame was attained in narrow, but still important, confines. At every festival were representatives, or scouts, from other cities with festivals, looking for new names and fresh talents to bring to their own events, and «Orlan» were 'captured' in such a manner.
So, on performing at 'Jazz Horizons' in the Ukrainian city of Krivoy Rog (Krivy Rih in Ukrainian) in the spring of 1987, «Orlan» were reckoned to have been the best band by the scouts of the jazz club of a nearby Ukrainian city, and, accordingly, in the autumn of that year, the band played at Dnepropetrovsk. «Orlan» brought something new to every festival, but there was always a combination of jazz and folk.
Oleg summarized the connection simply. "Jazz is the closest relative of folk music - so we're interested in folk tradition and what's alive around us, though it doesn't mean that we dismiss the jazz classics." Jazz festivals became landmarks in the output of the band, as in playing in the far-apart cities of Kazan, Tbilisi, Yaroslavl, Riga and Novosibirsk; and, when, in 1989, the autonomous republic of Khakassia in central-southern Siberia, announced plans for a world jazz and folk festival, «Orlan» joyfully accepted an invitation to play there, as did Boomerang. In the city of Abakan, the republic's capital, the members of «Orlan» were appropriately dressed in colorful national costumes of Bashkiria, and, with a real kurai player also included in the personnel, the band vividly brought Bashkiria to Khakassia. Indeed, the kurai was not only a musical instrument of Bashkiria. This cane flute was actually a by-product of the national flower of the region - the kurai flower or Bashkir rose that was a symbol of friendship - for the instrument was made from the dried hollow stalk of the flower, and the flower only grew on the southern steppes and mountains of Bashkiria.
«Orlan» recorded a self-titled instrumental LP in 1989 that was released by Melodiya in 1990, with all of the music composed by Oleg Kirejev. Side 1 consisted of a piece called "Bashkir legends" and was stated to be of duration 18:32, but, with its two tracks, "Abdrahman" (6:39) and "Karabai" (8:53), it is actually 15:32. On side 2, there is a minor inconsistency between the music and the track titles that are stated on the album cover. Side 2 was a piece called "Snowy April", correctly stated as being of duration 20:05, comprising tracks 3, 4 and 5 as "Singing reed", "Bashkir country blues" and "Sabantui" ("Country fair").
However, these three tracks constituted only two separate tracks on this side, being 10:02 and 10:10, but the solution appears to be that track 3 formed a 2Ys- minute joined introduction to track 4. Fortunately, the confusion is offset by the high quality of the vibrant and atmospheric music that was Orlan's blend of contemporary jazz and Bashkir folk. The members of the band on the album were Oleg Kireyev on tenor saxophone and keyboards; Rustem Galiullin on trumpet and kubyz or Bashkir Jew's harp; Igor Suchkov on piano; Oleg Yangurov on double bass and bass guitar; Rustem Karimov on drums and percussion; and supplementary member Robert Yuldashevon kurai. Kireyev had met Galiullin in the army, and they had similar ideas in music. Galiullin was from a musical family, with his father having led a wind orchestra and his grandfather having played baritone saxophone with Oleg Lundstrem's Orchestra. He had always wanted to be a trumpeter as a child, and he completed this ambition successfully through music school and college. Jazz critic Alexei Batashev, in his sleeve notes for the album, complemented the other members and offered possible reasons for the success of the band.
«Orlan's» rhythm section has two degrees in music and one in aviation but you'll never guess who has what. Pianist Igor Suchkov, Oleg Yangurov on double bass, and drummer Rustem Karimov are a remarkably coherent organism, playing its part very professionally. I don't know many young bands now who would be as purposeful and united as Orlan. For five years, they've moved in their chosen direction, with the same members and even, it would seem, without conflicts. Where does their unity come from? Is it natural in the work of a band? Maybe that's what culture means: the ability to do things together."
The music of the Soviet Asiatic ethnic jazz-rock bands, so described, is unfortunately very difficult to obtain, with only two CDs by Gunesh relatively easy to acquire; but perhaps, in the near future, the other bands will have their material released on CD by an enterprising company.
Unfortunately, too, the Russian company Boheme Music, having begun to release Russian and ex-Soviet LPs on CD, have apparently been beset by difficulties, with the result that the reissues have ceased, implying that Boheme has ceased to exist. Had this not been the case, the fine music of the Soviet Asiatic bands would, by now, have appeared on CD, as was Boheme's intention. Yet again, it is unfortunate that the music would, in all probability, be considered 'too jazzy' by the progressive-rock-issuing companies. Similarly, progressive-rock fans who are not tolerant of the jazzy side of the music should steer clear of the music of these nevertheless-excellent bands; but for those 'more adventurous' progressive-music lovers who are able to appreciate the realms of deeper contemporary jazz, such as that marketed by the German company ECM and blended effectively with Eastern folk music, the recordings of Gunesh, Boomerang, Firyuza, Anor and «Orlan» are highly recommended - as are those of Sato and Medeo, which, however, are of a lighter brand of jazz-rock than the other five bands.
A further approximate indication of the overall sound of the Soviet Asiatic bands produced can be gained by likening their music to much of the intense Eastern ethnic jazz-rock of the 'German' band Embryo. Anyone who has enjoyed this music of Embryo, which has had contributions from numerous musicians from diverse parts of the world in the band's long history - and Yuri Parvenov was a more recent participant - will find much of interest in the music of the Soviet Asiatic bands.