The Soviet Union's jazz best burst out of the oblivion of closed clubrooms this week, and the saxophone blare across Gorki Park left this city's jazz fans somewhere between Miles Davis and ecstasy.
The occasion -- Moscow's biennial jazz festival -- brought some of the mainstays of the Soviet jazz scene to three stages scattered about the city, including the club Four Seasons in the middle of Gorki, Moscow's biggest amusement park.
The four-day event, trailed by a rare midweek potpourri concert, featured all the fixtures of a New Orleans-style festival menu: a Sunday afternoon public jam session, a Dixieland parade through the park and a local jazz specialist acting as emcee.
The talents ranged from the Oleg Lundstrum big band, whose records are sold internationally, to the Seven Semenenkos, a family swing group on a road trip from Irkutsk, Siberia.
The result was a curious mix of raw musical inspiration and state-controlled emotion, of rehashed American jazz classics and inspired original songs, of recording studio professionalism and "Ted Mack's Original Amateur Hour."
Despite government efforts to cast Soviet jazz as something home-grown, the vast majority of songs and styles featured during the festival had their roots in New Orleans' French Quarter, Greenwich Village or Chicago's South Side. Valentina Ponomarev, ranked by downbeat magazine among jazz's 10 best vocalists, did a mediocre rendition of "Ain't Misbehavin' " and a warm, original "Ain't She Sweet." Dr. Jazz, one of the lead Soviet groups, played songs like "Savoy Blues" with some elan.
Internationally recognized pianist Igor Bril and his band did the best of the home-grown music, breezy songs that seemed linked to the trends Chick Corea forged in modern American jazz. Saxophonist Yuri Vorontsov and his quartet Reef did some of their own music, heavy on the sax and hard on the piano, reminiscent of Archie Shepp.
Most of the concerts were held in an auditorium designed for lectures, before crowds that were dedicated but rarely numbered more than several hundred. The Soviet press carried no rave reviews; in fact, no reviews at all. In keeping with the government's antidrunkenness drive, fruit juice and coffee were sold instead of liquor. The music, even at jam sessions, seemed carefully rehearsed, and the performers, an occasional pair of wild cowboy boots aside, seemed devoid of the flamboyance associated with their western counterparts.
Organized with state assistance but barely advertised, the low-key festival confirmed that jazz in the Soviet Union straddles a narrow but distinct ideological line between western-style rock and new wave music, which is mostly banned, and the sort of socialist-realism pop promoted by the state. But the enthusiasm of the musicians -- many of whom were young music students -- and of the crowds, who clung anxiously to every guitar twang, showed the makings of a minor, tightknit stronghold here for the most American of musical arts.