Street Date: October 8, 2019
Recorded in the Spring of 2019, Water features Fima on piano/Rhodes alongside a group of international musicians, each of whom - just like their bandleader - have now found a home in New York City: Vuyo Sotashe (vocals), Josh Evans (trumpeter), Sergey Avanesov (saxophone), Yoav Eshed (guitar), James Robbins (bass) and Jonathan Barber (drums). This nine-track collection of melody-drenched tunes presents six programmatic originals - penned by the pianist - an arrangement of a hymn, and two staples of the Great Jazz Songbook. Throughout the proceedings, Chupakhin ably demonstrates his conviction that the pursuit of beauty is at the very core of bebop expression. He cites Charlie Parker’s remark, “When you slow down all the bebop lines or themes or heads, it’s just pretty melodies,” upholding the aesthetic example set by such progenitors of the idiom as Bird, Tadd Dameron, Bud Powell, and Thelonious Monk, and descendent master practitioners like Barry Harris and Mulgrew Miller. Chupakhin will celebrate this release at the Ukrainian Institute in New York City on November 1st.
Upon receiving a Fulbright Scholarship, Chupakhin enrolled for the 2012-13 academic year at William Paterson University, where Mulgrew Miller — who died at the end of the term — was serving as Director of the Jazz Studies program. After two years of intense piano studies with maestro James Weidman, Chupakhin earned a Masters at WPU in 2014. He returned to his native Ukraine for a year, then received an artist visa that enabled him to move to New York in 2015. “I wanted to see what it means to be a musician living in New York — how far you can get artistically,” Chupakhin says. He describes himself as “anchored in jazz, classical and improvised music,” although, in Ukraine, he was as well-known as a cross-genre keyboardist and film composer as for his jazz activity on several albums by the cooperative combo, Acoustic Quartet. In New York, he continues, “the environment pushes you to grow faster and work more, which has been an interesting challenge.”
On Water, Fima Chupakhin engages with the last forty years of swing-oriented Black American Music on its own terms of engagement, guiding the flow with a compositional flair, imparting his own harmonic identity while giving his bandmates ample room to maneuver. His own solos are subtle, persuasive, exploratory, never harsh or aggressive. The album kicks off with “Don’t Let It Get You Down” - a medium-up number, propelled by Jonathan Barber’s steady, unrushed beats; after a section featuring brisk exchanges between the leader and Russia-born saxophonist Sergey Avanesov, the tempo slows to rubato, and trumpeter Josh Evans — best known in recent years as a member of Christian McBride’s New Jawn Quartet — limns the melody with a poignant, affirmative statement that embodies Chupakhin’s “Bach-like message that everything eventually resolves into major, into joy.” Featuring expressive vocals from South African-native, Vuyo Sotashe the album’s title track draws the bandleader into the spotlight. A well-wrought piano solo conveys the composer’s description of “a fluid state of mind, our ability to flow through stone and just keep going.” While “Dedication To Roy” references the late trumpeter Roy Hargrove, “Winter Sun Is Deceiving” features a Chupakhin solo that evokes the spirit of Andrew Hill.
There’s a swinging trio rendition of Thelonious Monk’s “Off Minor,” on which Chupakhin “tries not to hide and assert my originality over the originality of Monk’s genius.” Then he turns to Fender Rhodes to recontextualize John Coltrane’s “Moment’s Notice” with a spacy, languorous-to-ascendant reading, articulating his harmonization of the melody with interesting textures in dialogue with Barber’s cymbal sound-painting. Another highlight is the hymn “Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” on which vocalist Vuyo Sotashe raises goosebumps in plain-spoken duo with the pianist.
“I think music is far more spiritual than any other form of art,” says Chupakhin, who became involved in choral music at age 5. Like Weidman and his good friend Sullivan Fortner, he often spends Sunday mornings playing in church — to be specific, a gospel service at St. Joseph’s Catholic church in Harlem, a position previously held by Aaron Diehl. “I randomly came to the church and auditioned with the music director, who liked me, and said ‘We’re going to be playing now,’” Chupakhin recalls. “It happened somehow without me trying. But I seem to be finding myself in certain things that these people who I admire a lot did.
“Music might make you cry faster than looking at a painting, or even somehow shatter your perspective on certain things,” he says. “That’s the spirituality I’m hoping for — and I’m only hoping for it, because my music can be only as spiritual as I am.”
MORE ABOUT FIMA CHUPAKHIN
Yukhym (Fima) Chupakhin was born in Krivoy Rog, an industrial city in the East part of Ukraine. He was exposed to classical piano repertoire and choir music when he had entered a music school, and that had significantly influenced his future musical outlook. During the last year in the school, Fima discovered the world of jazz and had decided to study it along with classical music at the Krivoy Rog Music College. At the college Fima became more confident about his path as a jazz musician, after attending a concert of the famous Ukrainian jazz pianist and composer Segey Davidov. Just a few years later, Davidov became Fima's teacher and mentor at the State Kharkiv University of the Arts. In 2005 Fima Chupakhin started his jazz career, entering the First Moscow International Jazz Piano Competition. In 2007 Chupakhin formed his own jazz project "Acoustic Quartet", with whom he recorded three albums of mostly original music. In William Paterson University, Fima found the perfect opportunity to shape his unique voice under the leadership of the highly acclaimed pianist James Weidman, and other great musicians, including Armen Donelian, Steve LaSpina, Vincent Herring, Rich Perry and the legendary pianist Mulgrew Miller.
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This vocalist has yet to drop an album but is definitely one to be on the lookout for and if you’re paying attention to the New York jazz scene, you’ve probably heard of him. Vuyo Sotashe is currently based in Harlem but originally from South Africa. He has a crystal clear voice, kind of in that high-tenor range. He has a wonderful way with melody and does some really innovative stuff when it comes to wordless vocals. What he did on Fima Chupakhin’s Water kind of reminded me of the work Richard Bona did with the Pat Metheny Group. That kind of voice that is almost a woodwind. Instrumental. One of my favorite sounds in jazz. Read the full feature here.
MAKING A SCENE
"Throughout the proceedings, Chupakhin ably demonstrates his conviction that the pursuit of beauty is at the very core of bebop expression." Read the full review here.
ABC JAZZ TRACK
"Ukrainian born pianist Fima Chupakhin impresses with his new album." Full feature here.
"Trying on several styles in his mostly original program, he impresses at all stops. A tasty jazz piano led date, this set is heavy on listening music even though it's loaded with bebop underpinnings. Quite the auspicious debut." Full review here.
DEE DEE MCNEIL
"When I listen to this work of fine art that Fima Chupakhim has created, I hear a great appreciation for the freedom that jazz inspires, sprinkled with hard bop overtones that splash and move like water and waves. His ensemble arrangements float his compositions like colorful boats. Settle back and take a cruise with Fima Chupakhim across the deep waters of his creative mind." Full review here.
"Fima Chupakhin fluently speaks the language of the modern mainstream, and most importantly - he has something to say. I think after listening to Water, you will agree with me." Full review in Russian here.