REVIEW: ‘Yardbird Suite’ – Alexey Kruglov & Krugly Band

HAVING DISCOVERED the music of genial Russian alto saxophonist Alexey Kruglov, back in 2014, through his ‘Duo Art’ album Moscow with pianist Joachim Kühn, I’ve come to anticipate three, key aspects with each subsequent release.

Firstly, his projects often have a specific theme, such as 2015’s The Mighty Five, a wildly unique jazz celebration of native classical masters including Mussorgsky and Rimsky-Korsakov; and then 2020 release Tchaikovsky, marking 180 years since the composer’s birth. Secondly, he displays a wonderfully outrageous sense of experimentation, his improvisations sometimes squawked on reed only or blasted out simultaneously on two or more saxes (Roland Kirk style). Finally, given his ‘avant garde’ tag… expect the unexpected!

As with the likes of Gilad Atzmon or Marius Neset, Kruglov’s techniques eschew limits, with a creative flow almost persuading that his instruments are simply part of his physical being. For latest release Yardbird Suite, together with his Krugly Band of Artem Tretyakov (piano), Roman Plotnikov (double bass) and Pavel Timofeev (drums, percussion), the saxophonist focuses on this year’s 100th anniversary of the birth of the great Charlie Parker – one of his earliest influences as a player. An album described as a suite itself, the performance notes reveal how the eight interpretations have a direct connection with both Stravinsky and John Coltrane. And, boy, how these bebop arrangements bop!

‘Bird’, himself, could fly like the wind – and Kruglov’s present-day reimagining of Anthropology is similarly scintillating, including a couple of audacious, sauntering episodes within. Usually swinging, Now’s the Time surprises with its graceful waltz, while combined Scrapple from the Apple and Ornithology emphasize the quartet’s co-ordination in all manner of tempo/mood changes. Kruglov stamps incredible, bluesy individuality on Parker’s Mood, his dual, screeching altos certainly amongst the album highlights; and familiar, shuffling calypso My Little Suede Shoes is transformed into a jaunty stomp, Kruglov’s improvisations breathlessly traversing a capricious, quickening pace set and expanded on by his colleagues.

An unexpected balladic refashioning of Yardbird Suite is completed by the leader’s characteristic, reed-popping explorations; and Segment (sprightly when Parker and Miles Davis were upfront) takes on an shadowy, malleted, minor-key guise with shimmering Latin-piano overtones. Finally, classic bopper Confirmation enjoys its exuberant walking-bass moment in a band showcase to prove how mid-forties jazz, in our time, still gleams.

In our conversations, over the years, Alexey Kruglov’s artistic enthusiasm and zest for life have remained inspiring – and that’s sparklingly communicated, with intentional live-in-studio feel, throughout Yardbird Suite. Parker would surely approve!

Released on 28 August 2020 and available as CD or digital download at Bandcamp, and also at Fancy Music and Apple Music.

Video: dual-alto brilliance in Parker’s Mood.

 

Alexey Kruglov alto saxophones
Artem Tretyakov piano
Roman Plotnikov double bass
Pavel Timofeev drums, percussion

Fancy Music (2020)

‘No Going Back’ – Kruglov/Miller Kompania

kruglov_miller

LIFE IS FULL of the unexpected… and contemporary jazz reflects this so well through its cultural diversity and raw improvisational creativity. In that respect, it’s a pleasure to experience this multi-faceted big band/orchestral release from the Kruglov/Miller Kompania – No Going Back.

British pianist, composer and bandleader Vladimir Miller’s strong association with the musical life of Moscow, going back to the early ’90s, led to the establishment of the experimental, free-jazz Moscow Composers Orchestra amongst many, many other jazz/improvisational projects. This latest collaboration is with a member of that orchestra, Russian saxophonist Alexey Kruglov (whose albums Moscow and The Mighty Five have previously been reviewed here) and his Krugly Band. Dynamic and full-bodied, this big band (formed in 1999, personnel listed below) enthusiastically interpret, with Miller at the piano, these original compositions which are infused with world music and other influences, plus numerous, surprising declamations and interjections.

The sepia-toned aerosol cover art might suggest a waiting blank canvas, but does little to intimate this progressive, multicoloured, 70-minute phantasmagoria. Recorded in the Russian capital, here is scored and improvised jazz which demonstrates extraordinary breadth of style and a decidedly fervent attitude in its performance; and these five particularly expansive ‘movements’ constantly hold the attention through their frequent, unpredictable turns.

It’s a sensory voyage of discovery, so not too many spoilers in this review! But whilst opener Airport Plants might tease in conveying familiar big band swing and close horn-stabbing arrangements, it begins to reveal the energy and strong individuality of these players, especially George Gorbov’s supple clarinet soloing and Rost Kochetov’s blistering wah-wah-muted trumpet improvisations. Last Hour feels darkly cinematic, complete with Russian declamations and that most evocative of Middle-Eastern instruments, the duduk (played by Anton Kotikov); and it’s the sense of the unknown, plus rich through-composition, which adds so much to the experience.

Playful bassoon in Nick’s Waltz might suggest the storytelling of Prokofiev (particularly Peter and the Wolf) and, indeed, the big-band solidity and piano brilliance here is often interrupted with elicitations of music hall/fairground, with swooning double cow horn and reeds painting colourful images of their own. The assuredness of these players, who evidently thrive on the freedom that Miller’s compositions afford, is so impressive – and, across nineteen minutes, the contrapuntal beauty of Ivan (A Life in Several Parts), with overtones of Borodin, develops into episodes of reed-squawking, voice-chanting and delicate pools of quiet, as well as a big band stature reminiscent of Dave Holland. The superb invention in closing number Arguments, Considerations and Rage is almost beyond words as it waltzes, squabbles and blasts out the tension of its title – slick jazz which becomes cacophonous with distorted reed and brass squeals, exasperated scat… only to eventually be diffused by the stark innocence of a child’s laughter.

No Going Back may well be unlike anything you’ve ever heard before. Thoroughly addictive… theatrical… entertaining… and available in the UK (digital download only) from Eastov Records. замечательно!

 

Vladimir Miller piano, compositions, arrangements

‘Krugly Band’ Orchestra:
Alexey Kruglov alto sax, bassethorn, prepared alto sax, declamation, arrangements
Masha Kruglova voice
Olga Sorokina soprano sax, flute
Anton Kotikov tenor sax, alto flute, duduk, prepared tenor sax
George Gorbov baritone sax, clarinet
Rost Kochetov trumpet
Max Durov trumpet, flugelhorn
Anton Zakharov trumpet
Fedor Senchukov trombone
Maksim Piganov trombone
Andrey Savelichev trombone
Slava Keizerov trombone
Stas Cheremushkin tuba
Denis Shushkov double bass
Peter Ivshin drums, glockenspiel, percussion
with special guests:
Sergey Starostin voice, Russian folk wind instruments (tracks 2, 4)
Yury Yaremchuk soprano sax, bass clarinet (tracks 2, 4)
Alexander ‘Fagot’ Alexandrov bassoon (tracks, 3, 5)
Yury Parfenov trumpet (track 4)
Arkady ‘Freeman’ Kirichenko voice (track 5)

vladimirmiller.co.uk

Eastov Records – eastov 004 (digital, UK)
Artservice – art-321 (CD, Russia)
(2015)