Roots and soul

Roots and soul

The St. Petersburg Ska-Jazz Review is back — with a new singer.

Published: October 24, 2012 (Issue # 1732)


The St. Petersburg Ska-Jazz Review, featuring founder Denis Kuptsov (back row, c) and new singer Margarita Kasayeva, will play at Dada on Saturday.

The St. Petersburg Ska-Jazz Review, which returned in its fourth incarnation and with its third lead singer earlier this year, will perform at Dada club this weekend.

Dada is where new vocalist Margarita Kasayeva first performed with the band — formed a decade ago to perform Jamaican music from the 1950s and 1960s — in February. Kasayeva also sang on “Water Taxi,” the three-track CD single released in May.

The band had to look for yet another singer late last year, when Yulia Kogan, a vocalist with stadium rockers Leningrad, quit due to a ban on performing with acts other than Leningrad reportedly imposed on her by frontman Sergei Shnurov.

According to the founder and only original member Denis Kuptsov, it was due to the supportive attitude of the band Markscheider Kunst, whose musicians perform with him in the St. Petersburg Ska-Jazz Review, that his band has survived.

“They said, no problem, we’ll find another singer,” Kuptsov said, talking to The St. Petersburg Times in a downtown pub on Saturday.

A “female singer wanted” ad was duly put on the Internet, and he said he was surprised by the massive response.

“I got calls all the time, and we even had to reject many from the start, because we asked dilettantes not to apply, because they had to be able to really sing and sing it right,” he said.

“The thing is that aspiring Russian singers all have the same problem: They don’t know how to get the right tone. Everybody wants to sing some fusion jazz and they don’t understand the differences between styles. They seem to have this idea that if they make it more complex and show off their entire vocal palette, that will be great.

“Now, dear girls, don’t do that — you should really see how the singers of one or another style sang, study it carefully, try to sing like that and get the correct tone. When you know how to do that right, with taste and skill, then you can improvise and do anything you like.”

According to Kuptsov, the chief difficulty in getting a decent vocalist is a lack of knowledge of music and taste.

“Every vocalist wants to sing some horrible cheesy stuff — some RB or some glamorous pop, they lack roots; they simply don’t know the history of music,” he said.

“At best, they start copying Amy Winehouse, but they don’t know what Amy Winehouse listened to, what her roots were. But that’s very important for every musician.”

Kuptsov said that Kasayeva was the band’s choice out of the nine candidates who were chosen for auditions.

Originally from Moscow, Kasayeva lives in St. Petersburg, where she teaches singing and leads the Lab Show, a vocal and dance project.

“She has good pronunciation, she speaks English and Spanish pretty well, she has sung Latin music, which is basically close to Jamaican music in spirit, she’s very good at getting the right tone and writes all her own songs as well,” Kuptsov said.

“We like what Rita does and she listens to what we all tell her. We want it to sound not cheesy, but tasteful and interesting, tuneful and soulful. There should be soul in it, not just technique.”

The St. Petersburg Ska-Jazz Review started out in 2001 as a purely instrumental outfit formed by drummer Kuptsov with the local ska-punk band Spitfire — with whom he played drums until July 2009 — and two members of Markscheider Kunst (the seminal local band performing Afro-Caribbean music) before it was joined by the then-St. Petersburg-based American vocalist Jennifer Davis.

“With my former band Spitfire, we toured abroad a lot playing ska punk, but we also had a small set to be performed in small clubs or in the street, which was based on old ska covers and jazz standards,” Kuptsov said.


Margarita Kasayeva, the ensemble’s third vocalist, first performed with the band in February this year.

“Then, it happened that we were co-headlining a ska festival with Bad Manners in Berlin, and were also asked to play original ska at a jam session on a small stage with some other musicians. But because we were coming from far away — from the south of Germany — and hardly arrived in time for our own concert, it didn’t work out. But when we were back in St. Petersburg, we thought, ‘why not start a side project, just for fun?’”

The group’s debut was in 2001 at the SKIF festival, which was held at the city’s Palace of Youth on the Petrograd Side.

“We played a great jam and everybody got really excited and said, ‘That’s what you should do,’” Kuptsov said.

“We’d always liked the New York Ska-Jazz Ensemble, and we decided to start such a project, as a joke, and call it the St. Petersburg Ska-Jazz Review. We played a few concerts both in St. Petersburg and Moscow and suddenly it was a success.

“Everybody knew what ska punk was by that time, a lot of bands emerged both in Moscow and St. Petersburg, you couldn’t surprise anybody with it anymore, but it was original ska and it turned out that that was the sound that people wanted.”

The band’s debut album, called “The St. Petersburg Ska-Jazz Review” (2002), was instrumental, but by the album’s launch concerts in St. Petersburg and Moscow in April 2002, the band was already performing with Davis, who co-wrote a number of songs, including the title track for the follow-up album, “Too Good to Be True,” released in September 2005.

It was followed in 2007 by the live album “Live at Red Club,” recorded at the now-defunct venue in December 2006 and released on both CD and DVD.

Davis also recorded with the band for what was to become The St. Petersburg Ska-Jazz Review’s third album, but it was shelved due to lineup problems.

“It’s all recorded, but only a couple of songs have ever been mixed, everything fell apart because of the crisis, and why was an album needed if the band didn’t exist?” Kuptsov said.

“When I reformed the band with Markscheider Kunst, they basically didn’t need it, because it wasn’t them who recorded it. We’ve started to write new songs, so we’d do better to wait for a few years and release it as kind of ‘lost tapes’ album. That’ll be interesting.”

Davis moved back to the U.S. in 2008, and — after an 18-month hiatus — the band reformed in July 2010 with Kogan and the musicians of Markscheider Kunst.

“These guys, Markscheider Kunst, despite all their carefree attitude, continue to love music and what they’re doing, something that usually atrophies with time, if we take the musicians of our age,” Kuptsov said.

“They remain creative, attentive to quality and, interestingly, they do listen to music. They haven’t lost that interest. They don’t say, ‘You know, the place is small, the money is no good, so we won’t play, go to hell.’ There’s nothing like that about them, thank God.”

Released in May, The St. Petersburg Ska-Jazz Review’s CD single “Water Taxi” features an original song, “Water Taxi,” written by Kuptsov with saxophone player Ivan Neklyudov, and two instrumentals, Jamaican musicians Coxsone Dodd and Dalton Sinclair Bishop’s “Old Rockin’ Chair” and American jazz saxophonist and composer Wayne Shorter’s “Beauty and the Beast.”

“It got very good reviews and we’re putting together a full length-album to release at some time by spring,” Kuptsov said.

The St. Petersburg Ska-Jazz Review will perform at 8 p.m. Saturday at Dada, 49 Gorokhovaya Ulitsa.

M: Sennaya Ploshchad.

Tel: 983 7050.

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