Roman Bulakhov surfs the jazz wave in Ukraine

    Ukrainian jazz is safe in the hands of players such as guitarist Bulakhov, whose new album shows how creativity prevails against adversity

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    Ukrainian guitarist Roman Bulakhov. Photo by Kostya Borovski

    News reports might suggest otherwise but cultural life – and the jazz life – goes in Ukraine. The guitarist Roman Bulakhov is one vivid example of the phenomenon.

    Producer as well as guitarist, Bulakhov is a lively representative of the contemporary jazz scene in Ukraine. Born in the city of Severodonetsk, Lugansk region in 1992 into a family of musicians, he graduated from the Kharkiv Musical College as a jazz guitarist but became widely known in Eastern Europe as part of the Ukrainian rock band Nervy.

    Then, in 2018, he released his debut album Thoughts And Sounds – an experimental mixture of acoustic jazz with electronic samples, which launched his jazz career as a solo guitarist. Thanks to social networking, he became a leading endorser of D’Angelico Guitars, Supro Amps and Pigtronix Pedals – and the only Ukrainian to do so. He is also the only Ukrainian artist on the prominent guitar teaching platform jamtrackcentral.

    Bulakhov’s double musical life – rock and jazz – fed into the creation of his new album Surfing, which was released on 5 September. The publicity describes it as “a powerful mix of modern genres, 20 guest artists, world-famous names, and bright freshmen on one record”. Never mind a double life, the music draws on multiple musical styles, combining such strands as rock, jazz, soul, hip-hop and drum ’n’ bass. At the centre is Bulakhov’s expressive guitar playing that’s likely to help pull rock-oriented listeners into jazz as he blends modern guitar tones with sophisticated harmonic ideas.

    This summer Bulakhov posted a video of the first song from Surfing. Called Kyiv Time, it features the Ukrainian jazz band Hyphen Dash along with Bruce Buffer, an announcer for the US martial arts promoter Ultimate Fighting Championship. It’s dedicated to the city of Kyiv and honours the 32nd Independence Day of Ukraine.

    On the new record Bulakhov works with jazz musicians from around the world, including Kaz Rodriguez, Elijah Fox, Silvan Strauss, Grayson Nekrutman and others. There are also vocal contributions from Milkovskyi (Nervy), Gigi Dedalamazishvili (from the Georgian band Mgzavrebi) and rapper Teddy. Nearer home, he also features Ukrainian musicians such as Hyphen Dash, Hidden Element and Dennis Adu, who all recorded their parts in Kyiv during Russian rocket attacks.

    The record’s title reflects such positivity in the face of adversity. Bulakhov says “The title Surfing wasn’t chosen by chance. For me, it means a beautiful glide on sound waves past the good and bad things of the last few years that surround me. Despite the ups and downs, victories and failures, war, peace, love, hate, and even life and death, we’re still surfing.”

    Roman Bulakhov’s Surfing is available for streaming on all platforms. Listen now at https://tr.ee/HMgt0GiPsX

    Reflecting the internationalist yearnings of many Ukrainians today, the full personnel of Surfing boasts a multinational character: Bulakhov himself (UA), Kaz Rodriguez (UK), Elijah Fox (US), Ashton Sellars (UK), Greyson Nekrutman (US), Bruce Buffer UFC (US), Ian Maciack (US), Vincen Garcia (IT), Gianluca Pellerito (ES), Silvan Strauss (DE), Raghav Mehrotra (US), Joseph Buggs (US), Eric Assarsson (SE), Teddy (US), Florian Haas (DE), Hidden Element (UA), Hyphen Dash (UA), Dennis Adu (UA), Milkovskyi (UA), Gigi Dedalamazishvili (GE), Jay Stave (UA).

    This article was prepared with the assistance of the artist.