I’ve been a great fan of Russian band Roz Vitalis for some years, but last year I became acquainted with two other projects from Roz Vitalis main main, Ivan Rozmainsky – Compassionizer and RMP. Both of those featured Leonid Perevalov, of Yojo, on bass clarinet – an instrument which has always been a favourite of mine. And now this year we have a new album from Fair Wind Pleases, featuring both Rozmainsky and Perevalov once more. It goes without saying that my interest was piqued immediately. Like much Russian music, Fair Wind Pleases seems to draw as much from the East as the West, which makes for a quite interesting and intriguing sound, and this is evident right from the start, with The Unpredictable Autumn (Part I). It makes a wonderful opening statement, lulling the listener in gently, before almost assaulting them. But it’s a gentle barrage that I welcome with open arms.
One thing I especially love about this album is how much clarinets dominate proceedings. Within the Compassionizer and RMP albums, Perevalov added some quite wonderful textures and colours to the music with his bass clarinet, and here its combination with AndRey Stefinof‘s clarinet does not so much provide addition as foundation – and it’s absolutely beautiful to listen to. Clarinet and bass clarinet are almost constant in the mix, and conspicuous in their absence – so that when either returns it never fails to make me smile. The Bandcamp page states that unlike debut release Beyond the Season, this new release “features both drumming and guitar playing!” Now, no disrespect intended to Anatoly Nikulin, but the guitar is almost surplus to requirements. Nothing wrong with it, but for me, the guitar doesn’t really add anything, and the album would be just as wonderful without it. I do, however, like the drumming and percussion from Yury Khomonenko. It’s never too much, and often barely present, if at all. It’s this restraint that really makes the drumming so important when it does take a greater role.
But I need to return to the clarinets, just as the music of Fair Wind Pleases always does. In a way, this is why I don’t really understand the need for Nikulin. Rozmainsky’s piano playing often takes on the role a rhythm guitar might, and the clarinets solo the way a lead guitar might. When Nikulin plays, I don’t dislike what he does – and, don’t get me wrong, it does work, and it does sound good. In fact, his guitar playing often provides an edge to the music that might not be created so strongly otherwise. It’s not at all that I don’t like his guitar playing, or don’t recognise what it brings to the music, so much as I can’t help but be aware that everything he plays might be played effectively without him. I’m aware of how harsh this sounds, so I apologise if any offence is caused, as it’s honestly not intended. And, to be fair to Nikulin, regardless of how I feel about the role of his guitar in the mix, the mix itself is impeccable. So full credit to Nikulin for the mixing and mastering of the album, as it is perfect. Everything in its right place, as Radiohead would say.
The album reminds me a lot of the sort of improvisations King Crimson would perform live during the Larks and Starless period. I honestly am not sure how much of this album is improvisation and how much is composed, and that’s one of the most interesting and enjoyable aspects of the album. It often sounds quite spontaneous, and at other times much less so – but it always sounds fresh and exciting. I have no idea how I would describe the music. The band say it’s a mix of the “neoclassical, avant-garde, ambient, progressive, post-jazz, chamber music, modern creative and other genres”, which tells you everything and nothing at the same time. I don’t think it really matters, as you really do have to listen to this album to appreciate just how great it is. It’s alternately sparse and minimal, and dramatic and dense. It’s expansive and expressive. The music paints a picture that is at turns subtle and vibrant, and which (for me) is impossible not to be swept away by.
An interesting aspect to the sound is that Rozmainsky has chosen to play a digital piano, which provides an almost odd counterpoint to the dominating sound of acoustic instruments. But it works so well, and sounds so good. While I suggested that the music is dominated by the clarinets, there is no avoiding that Rózmainsky is almost always there in a role that is absolutely integral. When I first listened to the album, I felt as if Rozmainsky was playing a supporting role, but although he perhaps is less prominent in the mix than the clarinets, there is no denying how much his piano playing brings to the music. In fact, if this were mixed differently, you could easily make Rozmainsky the star of the proceedings. The fact that he has allowed himself to be almost relegated to the background shows just how much importance is given to the woodwinds. And as much as I’m a fan of Rozmainsky, I think this was the right decision. Not because I don’t think his playing here is lesser, so much as giving prominence to the clarinets provides a really neat point of difference for this album, that raises it above what it might be otherwise. There are moments where Rozmainsky takes the lead, such as in 7 and Waltz of Meek Lady, but for the most part, he plays the role of sideman, and does so admirably.
Ultimately, what Fair Wind Pleases really shows is an impressive knowledge of when to step forward, and when to fall back. Given how improvisational the album sounds at times, this shows how well the musicians must know each other, and be willing to let each instrument take precedence as it fits the music. It’s a magical mix of melody, harmony, atonality and dissonance, with everything in balance, no matter how chaotic it might sometimes sound on first listen. And this is definitely an album which rewards repeated listens. As I’ve already noted, Niculin’s mixing and mastering of the album is superb. Basically everything about this album is as good as it could be. Even though we’re still only in the first quarter of the year, I can easily see this still being one of my favourite albums of 2021 by the end of the year.
01. The Unpredictable Autumn (Part I) (6:21)
02. 7 (5:24)
03. The Unpredictable Autumn (Part II) (6:54)
04. Waltz of Meek Lady (5:47)
05. The Unpredictable Autumn (Part III) (5:40)
Total Time – 30:06
AndRey Stefinoff – Clarinet
Leonid Perevalov – Bass Clarinet
Ivan Rozmainsky – Digital Piano
Anatoly Khomonenko – Drums, Percussion
Anatoly Nikulin – Guitar
Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: Russia
Date of Release: 18th January 2021