Misha's musical musings

Alperin's crossover explorations have taken him far and wide across wild and windy cultural terrain.

misha alperin 88 (photo credit: )
misha alperin 88
(photo credit: )
At his own admission, Misha Alperin is the quintessential world music artist. While he is best known as a jazz pianist - signed with the prestigious German record label ECM - the 48-year-old Ukrainian-born Jew (who will perform at the Stricker Auditorium in Tel Aviv today), says he incorporates numerous cultural influences in his work. "When I perform and record, many things flow through me," said Alperin in a telephone interview from his mother's home in the Galilee shortly after landing at Ben-Gurion. "I suppose, considering all the places I have lived in, and all the music I've heard, that is only natural." In fact, Alperin has led an almost nomadic existence. Born in the Ukraine he left his home country at the age of 17 for Moldavia before moving onto Moscow. For the last 12 years he has been a resident of Oslo. "I have picked up something from the all the countries I have lived in, and all the cultures I've encountered," he explains, adding that one of his most rewarding educational experiences involved working very hard to make ends meet. "When I lived in Moldavia I earned a living by playing at weddings. Boy, those Moldavians know how to have fun. We'd play for almost 25 hours non-stop. It was very tough, but I learned so much about different kinds of music, including Balkan music which, of course, is close to klezmer." Alperin's musical palette stretched even further when he settled in Moscow for a few years. "That's when I started playing and learning about all the different kinds of Russian folk music. There are so many. I also got more into jazz and tried to mix folk with jazz. That's fun." The jazz-folk direction initially developed in Moldavia, where Alperin helped to found that country's first jazz quartet. He has been marrying genres and cultural sounds with abandon ever since. His 2001 album with ECM, At Home, for example ranges from achingly beautiful ballads to mainstream blues, and there are some blues vibes and Jewish references in there too. Initially, though, Alperin began life as a classical pianist. Although he says he has happily broken out that mold he still feels there is much to be gleaned from the classical genre. "Ego is a problem for artists in general and, in particular, for performing artists. Classical musicians have ego problems, but that is less prevalent with jazz musicians. The perfect blend would be the seriousness of a classical musician and the creative freedom of a jazz musician." While referring to himself as a sort of a conduit for passing on vibes and energies through the music he composes and performs, he admits to wrestling with his own ego. After all, when you stride out onto a stage and there is an audience of 3,000 admiring people just waiting for you to place your fingers on the ivories - that has to get to you. "The trick is to remain centered," said Alperin. "If you are with yourself, and at one with yourself, your art will not be affected." Alperin's crossover explorations have taken him far and wide across wild and windy cultural terrain, as he examines the hybrid possibilities offered by very different, and sometimes seemingly disparate, genres. Take, for example, his confluence with the Huun Huur Tu quartet from Tuva near Mongolia who employ exotic overtone and undertone vocal methods. And, as if that weren't enough, Alperin spiced up the musical broth even further with the ethereal sounds of the Angelite women's choir from Bulgaria. Add to that Alperin's recordings of 20th century violinist-composer Paul Hindemith and other pioneers of Classical Modernism and you get a highly variegated track record. At the end of the day, of course, Alperin just wants to play music. "There is a sadness to my music because, I think of all the wars and bad things that happen in the world. And also I'm Jewish. That adds to it too." But there is hope. "If people were more interested in music, and less in politics and ego-strutting, things would be a lot better in the world."