Jazz vs. Politics
The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming. That is, they came – not with seven machine guns in a re-enactment of the 1966 comedy movie about a Russian sub running aground off New England, but with 16 musical instruments. They arrived at the Arts Garage in Delray Beach on Sunday night, and captivated the audience with a stirring performance that highlighted its leader, Igor Butman, on tenor and soprano saxophones. He demonstrated convincingly why he is a world-renowned jazz saxophonist, a role he grew into after switching from classical clarinet at a young age.
A potent mix
Vocalist Fantine Pritoula and Igor Butman
But it wasn’t just the good-humored Butman who produced standing ovations throughout the concert. There wasn’t a weak spot in the big band, with two trumpeters delivering blazing solos, and the trombonists, bassist, drummer and pianist, the band’s arranger, also distinguishing themselves. Fantine Pritoula, a lovely and sexy, mixed-race woman originally from Australia, wowed with solos that complemented Butman’s impassioned playing. The repertoire was largely standards, with inventive arrangements, and a few originals in a hard-swinging performance. Renowned vocalist Kevin Mahogany, who has performed previously with the band, was in the audience, and joined it for one number.
In Russia, politics often have intruded into the arts. A prime example is Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5, which long was seen as the composer’s concession to the brutal Russian dictator Joseph Stalin. He had condemned Shostakovich’s highly popular opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, and subsequently executed, imprisoned or exiled patrons and family of the composer. Though Shostakovich called the symphony “a Soviet artist’s practical creative response to just criticism” and western media panned it, later critics thought he duped the Stalinists by subtly delivering a rebuke of Stalin’s regime while making it appear to be an optimistic work showing the heroic classicism of socialist realism.
Making a statement
The 54-year-old Butman holds dual citizenship with Russia and the United States, and has become involved in a political controversy between the two countries. He performed with American jazz greats in Russia before and since his emigration to the U.S. in 1987. In 2008, Butman joined the Russian political party United Russia and became a member of its high council. A prominent Russian critic of government corruption suggested Butman had abandoned his loyalty to Russia and would take the U.S. side in a war. A few weeks ago, Butman said the U.S. State Department asked him not to attend a jazz festival in Crimea because it still was under U.S. and European sanctions. Butman performed, anyway. He told the media that he had written a letter to President Obama labeling as “improper” the intentions of Ukraine officials to ban artists who perform in Crimea from entering Ukraine for five years.
Butman may face punishment from the U.S. government for violating the sanctions against doing business in Crimea.
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