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HAPPY 55

RIO/Avant-Prog • Russia


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Happy 55 biography
Founded in Voronezh, Russia in 2007

Voronezh is a Russian city far south of Moscow which was an important industrial place during the Soviet Union years but after the end of USSR it entered a period of decadence. This is the environment where HAPPY 55 have grown up. Initially a jazz trio but with avantgarde, minimalistic and classical influences since their first days.
Alexander Bityutskikh is a self trained drummer who created his style by looking at other drummers trying to catch the best from all of them.
Yaroslav Borisov, when boy, didn't have enough money for a piano so started studying the accordion. He is a great improviser and has always been interested in exprimenting sounds since his early years.
Gennadiy Chuhlov plays clarinet and originally completed this quite unusual lineup. Currently the band is a quartet completed by Nikita Bondarenko at the effects and electronics on stage, but they have featured a bassist and two flutists, too.

See also: HERE

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HAPPY 55 discography


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HAPPY 55 top albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

3.05 | 2 ratings
Happydarkblue
2007
3.63 | 9 ratings
Magic Word
2014
4.02 | 4 ratings
Warm Things
2016

HAPPY 55 Live Albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

HAPPY 55 Videos (DVD, Blu-ray, VHS etc)

HAPPY 55 Boxset & Compilations (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

HAPPY 55 Official Singles, EPs, Fan Club & Promo (CD, EP/LP, MC, Digital Media Download)

4.01 | 6 ratings
Точное время / Precise Time
2018

HAPPY 55 Reviews


Showing last 10 reviews only
 Warm Things by HAPPY 55 album cover Studio Album, 2016
4.02 | 4 ratings

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Warm Things
Happy 55 RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by octopus-4
Special Collaborator RIO/Avant/Zeuhl,Neo & Post/Math Teams

4 stars Even if added to progarchies as a full release, this is a 4 tracks album which scores about 28 minutes only, so I think it should be conesidered an EP. Well, it's a detail.

Respect to Precise Time, which is the other Happy55 album that I have, courtesy of the band, it's a bit more challenging. Because of the clarinet, the sound has similarities with the Spanish OCTOBER EQUUS, but it's more jazz oriented, especially when the piano leads. Let's also say that October Equus don't use clariet, but keyboards.

Particualrily in the piano parts the listener can find both classical and jazz music, but it's in the classical side that the band offers its best. The title track in particular is full of good ideas and every single note seem to have been carefully placed in the right moment.

Putting a cover of the hungarian composer Bela BARTOK says a lot about the band and their influences. I don't know the original, but I guess the noisy free jazz section in the middle is a band's idea. When the main theme is reprised only few seconds remain before the end of the track that in my opinion comed too early. This final is so good that I would have let it go for some minutes more. It's like being on diet: you have room for more of that stuff but it's already finished.

Happy55 is a must for who likes RIO and chamber rock.

 Точное время / Precise Time by HAPPY 55 album cover Singles/EPs/Fan Club/Promo, 2018
4.01 | 6 ratings

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Точное время / Precise Time
Happy 55 RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by octopus-4
Special Collaborator RIO/Avant/Zeuhl,Neo & Post/Math Teams

4 stars Another excellent Russian band. Happy 55 is a chamber rock combo which shows both jazz and classical influences. This EP seems to have been made of material discarded from their album Warm Thing because of a decision of the producers. I have honestly read it on another review. If true, I can't understand how material of this kind can be "discarded".

It's sometimes noisy, it has a free form which is likely inherited by a free jazz influence, but in the same time passages like classical music can be distinguished inside the noise. Noise that is never chaotic, everything seems perfectly planned. The most melodic parts sound like they are inspired to Debussy and to Stravinskij. Listening, my mind goes to ART ZOYD, OCTOBER EQUUS and RIO bands in general, but in a more rocking vest.

It's just a short EP which consists of 3 tracks. The last one would be enough to give this EP a high rating. You can find it on Bandcamp, together with their full length album Warm Thing.

 Точное время / Precise Time by HAPPY 55 album cover Singles/EPs/Fan Club/Promo, 2018
4.01 | 6 ratings

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Точное время / Precise Time
Happy 55 RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by Neu!mann
Prog Reviewer

4 stars The classical/jazz quartet Happy 55 describes their own music as "Electro Chamber Prog", with the more Progressive elements increasing steadily over their last few releases. The band's latest to date is a too-brief three song EP, recorded in 2015 and intended to fill out the "Warm Things" mini-album, before publishers expressed nervous concern over what they heard as "too many arpeggios" and yanked these tracks for later use.

Damn those meddling publishers! If the story is true, some of the best cuts were left off the earlier effort, and the unfortunate result was two excellent EPs that might have been an essential single album if left intact.

I've tried to define the Happy 55 style in other reviews, as a complex yet playful combination of piano, clarinet, and (more recently) occasional Eno-inspired non-musical noise. But once again the band itself says it best, calling it "acoustic sound transmitted through high voltage and digital meat grinders": a surefire endorsement to any self-respecting Proghead.

The future of the group is currently in doubt, after pianist/bandleader Yaroslav Borisov relocated from the city of Voronezh to - of all places - Fayetteville, North Carolina in the United States. But he leaves behind a small, vital body of challenging instrumental music, including this short but sweet EP, maybe the easiest point of entry for curious listeners.

A quick addendum...the last track of the EP, listed here as "Tolk", is actually named "Толк": a Cyrillic word translating to something like "Sense", as in "for inquisitive newcomers this mini-album makes perfect _____".

 Warm Things by HAPPY 55 album cover Studio Album, 2016
4.02 | 4 ratings

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Warm Things
Happy 55 RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by Neu!mann
Prog Reviewer

4 stars The Russian combo Happy 55 has been evolving with every new album since 2008, and the band's third release was their best and richest yet, despite its sadly truncated length. The big difference here is all the quirky electronic textures provided by newcomer Nikita Bondarenko, adding unexpected depth and variety to the previously unplugged ensemble.

Their aesthetic hadn't changed: it's still the same Avant-Prog classical chamber music, driven by a restless interaction between the piano and clarinet. But the extra synthetics totally changed the dynamic of their style, for the better in my opinion, although orthodox highbrows might disagree. Think of how Brian Eno subverted the glam-rock of early Roxy Music with his primitive VCS3 squiggles; then translate that sound to an instrumental classical/jazz setting.

That burst of industrial noise introducing the album opener "Big Etude" might have been a stray edit from an old Pere Ubu LP, circa 1978. And the unpronounceable "MKRKSMS" ends the album on an unadorned 4/4 rhythm not far removed from actual rock 'n' roll, albeit filtered through an appreciation of Béla Bartók.

Unfortunately, the proposed full-length album was shortchanged when three tracks were rashly excised by anxious publishers, leaving behind a barely 28-minute EP. It's a shame we'll never hear the longer work as originally intended (see the recent "Precise Time" EP for the missing 17-minutes). But I would argue that the abbreviated length actually helps listeners by presenting some challenging music in smaller homeopathic doses.

With so much quality music coming out of Russia these days, it would be easy to overlook a low-profile quartet from the backwater metropolis of Voronezh, some 500 miles south of Moscow. Sometimes, it's the artists who don't call any attention to themselves who leave the strongest impression.

 Magic Word by HAPPY 55 album cover Studio Album, 2014
3.63 | 9 ratings

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Magic Word
Happy 55 RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by Neu!mann
Prog Reviewer

3 stars The second Happy 55 album served up more of their agitated avant-classical Math Jazz, but with a significant change since the band's 2008 debut: the original piano/drum team had expanded to a trio, with clarinet player Gennady Chuhklov now firmly installed as a permanent member of the group.

The (mostly) acoustic music is still carried by the hyperactive virtuosity of pianist Yaroslav Borisov, a whirlwind talent equal to any keyboardist in these Archives. His staccato technique, played at a typically restless tempo, lacks a certain emotional warmth, to be sure. But some discreet synthesizer textures later in the album add a subtle wash of pastel color to what can sometimes be a colorless academic exercise, at times matching the austere monochrome palette of the album cover art.

The added electronic juice works like mild shot of adrenalin to some already lively and complex musical arrangements. Note the reprise here from the debut album of the song "Generous Fernando", given new life by the wider range of instrumentation. And the avant-rock title track includes an unexpected synth-bass guitar sound, pointing the way toward future Happy 55 sessions.

Listen closely and you might hear the trio actually having fun with their uncompromising music. The pristine audio-vérité production makes it sound live in the studio, and provides a thrilling sense of immediacy to an otherwise difficult album, invigorating in detail but, like its predecessor, a little tiring to finish in a single sitting.

Consider it a four-star album with three-star appeal, containing highly refined music for highly refined tastes.

 Happydarkblue by HAPPY 55 album cover Studio Album, 2007
3.05 | 2 ratings

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Happydarkblue
Happy 55 RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by Neu!mann
Prog Reviewer

3 stars Good luck trying to find any information about the debut album by this unique ensemble from southern Russia: I have tried, and failed. But one fact should be obvious: bandleader Yaroslav Borisov has to one of the more exciting pianists at work today, in his or any other country. And the guy behind the drum kit (unidentified here, but probably Alexander Bityutskikh, the credited drummer on every subsequent Happy 55 album) has enough stamina to match him note for note and rhythm for rhythm.

This first album is a (more or less) unplugged piano and drum session: in effect a percussion duet, with energy to spare. But how to define the music...is it Modern Jazz? Post-Modern Classical? Off-the-wall Avant-Something Else..? Or is this one of those groups that defies easy classification and exists in a pigeonhole of its own design?

The performances are attractively over-caffeinated, if somewhat exhausting to sit through over the album's 46-total minutes. It isn't until the next-to-next-to-last track ("First Ray of the Sun") that Borisov gives his overworked piano a rest and fires up the synthetic strings, and the unexpected spacedrift is a relief after all the busy acoustic syncopation beforehand. It's here too where the clarinet - so integral to the group's later sound - makes its first appearance, but for the time being only as a momentary guest.

Happy 55 never did have the highest profile. And their debut album in particular will never attract anything more than a small niche audience. But listeners on the same elevated wavelength (and who also enjoyed the Bruford/Moraz piano and drum collaborations) will find plenty to appreciate here.

 Точное время / Precise Time by HAPPY 55 album cover Singles/EPs/Fan Club/Promo, 2018
4.01 | 6 ratings

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Точное время / Precise Time
Happy 55 RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by kev rowland
Special Collaborator Crossover Team

4 stars I still don't know why Happy55 didn't put more tracks on their 2016 release, 'Warm Things', which just wasn't long enough in my mind. But, after three albums, the band decided to release an EP which contains three more numbers from the 2016 St. Petersburg session. This sounds a little more produced, especially on the second song, 'All Green', which commences with spoken voices layered over the top of each other (in Russian), before the piano kicks in. There is an incredible clarity of thought, with ideas bouncing around and being responded to by all four involved. Again, themes are repeated, expanded upon, twisted and changed as each of the quartet strive to take the song to the next level.

In some ways this has the feeling of free jazz in the way they are reacting, but the music is much tighter with complexity being taken as a given, yet everyone keep[ing up with each other. This really does feel to me like King Crimson being twisted and pulled and amended into a piano led force of nature. I only discovered the band because they contacted me through ProgArchives, and I am so very glad they did, as this is yet another stunning artist I am going to keep my eye on. For all fans of progressive music that is attempting to push boundaries, yet are exciting and incredibly enjoyable all at the same time.

 Warm Things by HAPPY 55 album cover Studio Album, 2016
4.02 | 4 ratings

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Warm Things
Happy 55 RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by kev rowland
Special Collaborator Crossover Team

4 stars Happy55 is a Russian group formed in Voronezh in 2007 by pianist and composer Yaroslav Borisov and drummer Alexander Bityutskih, with the line-up completed by Nikita Bondarenko (electronics) and Gennady Chukhlov (clarinet). They describe their music as chamber electronic and acoustic avant-garde, and consider their major influences to be Sergei Prokofiev, Igor Stravinsky, Charles Ives, Trilok Gurtu, King Crimson, Can, Autechre and Herbie Nichols, so one can already feel what the band sounds like.

This album is taken from the first part of a session which took place in St. Petersburg in 2016, and has been released on the French- English label Bruce's Fingers. It is based strongly on Borisov's piano, which can be delicate and easy to listen to, or just striking some discordance which makes the listener a little uneasy. Also, the gentleness can also give way to some harsh and rough staccato attacks. The rest of the band may be making their presence felt by not playing at all, adding to the melody, or playing at odds, but always somehow maintaining an affinity to the main approach. It really does sound as if Can, Art Zoyd and King Crimson have sat down and had a discussion, and then come up with a piano-led approach instead of guitar, also adding some industrial noise elements into it, which can take it in different directions. The use of a clarinet provides warmth to what is sometimes quite a bleak approach. I only wish that they had included more of the session, as at just 28 minutes long these four songs really whet the appetite for more. Avant prog/RIO aficionados need look no further, and I know I've said it before but there is great music coming out of Russia that really needs further investigation.

 Точное время / Precise Time by HAPPY 55 album cover Singles/EPs/Fan Club/Promo, 2018
4.01 | 6 ratings

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Точное время / Precise Time
Happy 55 RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by TCat
Collaborator Eclectic Team

4 stars Happy 55 is a band out of Russia, but the lead keyboardist currently lives in the U.S. They have self released a few albums and E.P.s, which I have not heard yet. This is my first experience with the band, and let me tell you, it is an avant-prog party for the senses. "Precise Time" is the newest release to date, June 2018. It is listed under albums, but it only has 3 songs with a run time of only around 16 minutes, so it is really an E.P. But one thing for sure, it will leave you wanting more, especially if you are a fan of Rock in Opposition, or Avant Garde Progressive music.

I call these three tracks "compositions" because they are not songs in the traditional sense as much as they are compositions in the contemporary classical sense or the modern jazz sense. The sound is a combination of both styles with a lot of progressive aspects thrown in. They have quite a list of influences from Stravinsky to King Crimson, though it leans more towards the 21st Century classical music more than the rock influences, though they are definitely there. If anything, to me they sound more like "Henry Cow" than anything else, but even then, that's not completely right either. The best thing about all of this, and what makes me most excited about their sound, is that it is driven by acoustic piano. Drums are also in the mix, and they are used as both a standard rhythm generator and totally non-standard at other times becoming more than just a background sound.

The first track, which is the title track "Precise Time" is a very happy sounding track, but not because it's something you feel like whistling, because you can't. The piano drives this along with some great percussion, with support from electronics and synths. This added all together gives a very unique sound, never annoying, always interesting. They do consider themselves a combination of electronics and acoustics and it usually happens all at the same time. There are no standard sounding melodies here though, as there is a lot of dissonance, which makes it amazing that it is still a very happy sounding track even with all of these strange harmonies, scales, chords and sounds going on. The movement of the driving melodies (if you can call them that) are always moving. At about the 4 minute mark, there is a major change in the sound and things almost get frantic. This part gets me really excited as the speed increases and interesting repeating sounds come out of the synths.

The next track is "All Green" and this one immediately sounds different. There are 3 voices speaking in another language which I don't understand. They continue for a short time and then reverb is added slowly along with music until the voices are taken over altogether. This is more of a dark sound, again driven by the piano at first. About halfway through, the clarinet takes over the spotlight, and then eventually, both the piano and clarinet play notes that constantly move and weave around each other. It all seems to be done in a minor key, though I am not sure if there is a specific key here, and I certainly have no idea what mode they are using either, possibly even 12 tone. That would make sense since Prokofiev and Stravinsky are influences.

The last track is my favorite entitled "Tolk". This one uses the best example of standard pop rhythms at certain times and non- standard at other times. That is the only thing close to standard here because everything else playing here does not necessarily follow the rhythm. This is a very interesting combination. The standard rhythm drops out and comes back occasionally, but the non-standard percussion also continues. There is a lot going on here, lots of dynamics, rhythm changes, nice builds and releases throughout the track. Very enjoyable.

Overall, this is a very enjoyable EP that keeps you wanting more. It definitely has me interested in hearing their other releases. The production is excellent, the sound is mostly bright, but also dark in places. Dynamics are very, very well used here, and that is probably the strongest asset. These guys really know what they are doing, and I would say they sound like they are classically trained with an interest in Jazz and progressive rock. Nothing is predictable here, so don't expect that going in to this one. What it is though, is a lot of fun, which is something you can't always say about contemporary classical music since must of it (not all of it though) comes off sounding rather clinical, where this is anything but clinical. All lovers of RIO and Avant Garde Progressive need to listen to this, it is definitely an excellent addition to your collection. Besides, you are not out much as far as dollars go since it is only 3 songs, but you will probably want to invest more once you hear it. Excellent job by a very talented band.

 Magic Word by HAPPY 55 album cover Studio Album, 2014
3.63 | 9 ratings

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Magic Word
Happy 55 RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by siLLy puPPy
Collaborator PSIKE, JR/F/Canterbury & Eclectic Teams

4 stars HAPPY 55 is an interesting musical act from the southern industrial city of Voronezh, Russia which personally i have never heard of before but appears to be in close proximity to the Eastern Ukraine. While sometimes cited as a duo consisting of pianist, composer and main band member Iaroslav Brisov and percussionist Aleksandr Bitiutskikh, they added a third member Gennadiy Chuhlov to handle clarinet and additional synths. It sounds to me that there is some bass guitar at times but no credits are given so i assume perhaps it was synthesized instead of incorporating a real musician. HAPPY 55 has been garnering attention in their native land as being highly original and sounding like no other musical entity. And indeed i have to say that i can attest to that sentiment.

This music is almost impossible to classify as it covers a lot of territory but for progressive rock lovers it falls into the Rock In Opposition camp as it has that familiar avant-garde feel of the more energetic bands in that world but is firmly rooted in the classical and jazz worlds as well. This is an all instrumental album with lots of emphasis on piano, synthesizers and clarinet interactions with different passages through different moods and sonic textures. Sometimes you get the feel of Philip Glass, sometimes it treads into post-bop territory all with a Rachmaninoff concerto romanticism wending its way throughout the beautiful melodic progressions that twist and turn into new ones that keep a steady stream flowing while still being firmly rooted in the avant- garde. Generally speaking the piano maintains the melodic classical meets jazz feel while the clarinet covers the Rock In Opposition. There are just too many classical and jazz influences to even begin to mention as this stuff changes it up frequently.

While this could be considered rock in some circles there are no guitars to be heard, scarce bass and the drumming style is clearly straddling both jazz and RIO fields. This is pretty complex music as far as both melody and rhythms go and it is ever changing, ranging from the mellowest pastoral passages to extremely energetic outbursts that do bring a rock feel to the table. This is truly music that is outside of the box of orthodoxies in any rock, classical or jazz contexts. The fact that they have somehow qualified to be within the parameters of all these genres is a testament to the high quality and devotion put into every detail. Not only is the music amazingly complex but the production is first rate as well. This sounds like a spiffy modern day recording in the most professional manner.

This was actually quite surprising to hear as i wasn't seeking anything of this sort to fulfill any musical yearnings. I love music that takes you somewhere somewhat familiar on different levels but throws all the rules out the window and totally surprises you. Well, HAPPY 55 has done just that. While true i would love to hear this music more developed with more instruments and encompassing larger thematic possibilities there is no doubt that this particular album as it is has a lot to digest without being totally alienating upon first listen. While the virtuosic musicianship is top notch, it really boils down to the outstanding song constructions and mood building dynamics that make this such a primo listen. I truly look forward to hearing more from HAPPY 55 in the future. And yes i agree with others that the album cover is quite lame but don't let that interfere with letting yourself hear some amazingly performed music.

Thanks to octopus-4 for the artist addition. and to Quinino for the last updates

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