‘Robin Goodie’ – Zhenya Strigalev’s Smiling Organizm

Robin-Goodie

THERE’S FREQUENTLY a ‘loose cannon’ unpredictability and zanyism (or zhenyism?!) to the music of Russian-born saxophonist Zhenya Strigalev which is endearingly reminiscent of the great Roland Kirk – one only needs to take a look at the unfathomable naivety of his hand-scribbled sleeve art to this latest release, Robin Goodie, for an inkling. This is no stretch limousine of glossy, forgettable soft jazz, but rather an impassioned outpouring of the sax man’s quirky, raw, yet ultimately tuneful creations as composer and instrumentalist.

But don’t mistake any suggestion of apparently rough-hewn music for a lack of musicianship or inventiveness as, between them, he and his Smiling Organizm sextet serve up a programme of heady grooves, fervent ensemble playing and blistering improvisation. Joining Strigalev (on alto) is the illustrious team of Ambrose Akinmusire (trumpet), Taylor Eigsti (piano), Tim Lefebvre (electric bass), Larry Grenadier (double bass) and Eric Harland (drums). Strigalev says he is taken with the themes of “nature, humour, strong personalities, rebelliousness and stupidity” in the folklore tale of England’s heroic outlaw (Robin Hood and Boogie Woogie = Robin Goodie). Whatever his theory, these quoted characteristics certainly come to the fore in this second album, the leader’s desire for both acoustic and electric bass in this line-up producing a distinctly gritty edge to his eleven compositions.

The capriciousness of this musical romp contributes significantly to its enjoyment – so not too many spoilers here. But the powerful punkiness of opener Kuku reveals much about the character of this band, Lefebvre’s high bass delivering a funk drive, combined with Grenadier’s acoustic, over which hard, mainstream horns (sounding like four not two) give it everything they’ve got… until they step up higher to outrageously frenetic solos. Horizontal Appreciation‘s piano and electric bass groove coaxes some terrific chops, not least the flamboyance of drummer Harland; and the comedic Sharp Night (shades of Yakety Sax) rattles along at an astonishing pace, unison phrases, bass electronics and Strigalev’s superb squawkings doing nothing to dispel that Kirk notion – fabulous fun to listen to and, no doubt, to play.

It’s not all bustle and brashness, as Urgent Ballad (despite its oxymoronic title) provides the space for more reflective alto and double bass extemporisation; but you can’t keep these guys down for long, as the brilliant combination of complex, wacky grooves and high-flying straightahead jazz in closing Renduta takes off – and with so much going on here, it’s a shame for it to finally peter out (perhaps not so soon in a live setting).

So, if Zhenya at some point steps up to the mic. with a strangely familiar one-man, dual/contrapuntal saxophone display, I’ll realise the Rahsaan reincarnation is absolute! But seriously, it’s great to known that this same spirit of adventure, mischievousness and hard-pushing resourcefulness – to deliver sit-up-and-listen contemporary jazz – is alive and well. Crank it up…

Released on 2 February 2015, Robin Goodie is available from Whirlwind.

 

Zhenya Strigalev alto sax
Ambrose Akinmusire trumpet
Taylor Eigsti piano
Tim Lefebvre bass guitar
Larry Grenadier double bass
Eric Harland drums

zhenyastrigalev.com

Whirlwind Recordings – WR4665 (2015)

‘Tate Song’ – Jean Toussaint (JT4)

JeanTousaintTateSong

IN A GLITTERING CAREER that has seen him working alongside such jazz icons as Art Blakey, Terence Blanchard, McCoy Tyner and Gil Evans (to name but a few), former Jazz Messenger and Grammy Award-winning, US-born saxophonist Jean Toussaint now releases his tenth album, ‘Tate Song’, on LYTE Records.

And what an effervescent blast of accomplished quartet creativity this is! Known as ‘JT4’ for this studio recording and accompanying tour, the personnel comprises Toussaint (now based in London) on tenor and soprano, high-flying British pianist Andrew McCormack (who currently resides in New York) plus bassist Larry Bartley and drummer Troy Miller, both much in demand on the London scene.

Toussaint’s own Mood Mode is an exceptional and lively post-bop opener, the perfect introduction to the magnificent richness of the leader’s tenor – so commanding, both in solidity and fluidity, and an absolute joy to hear. Bartley and Miller lock the tempo with precision, yet fill the air with so much interest and intracacy; and McCormack displays his natural and now quite distinctive flair for chordal and bassline imagination as well as a crisp solo high line. Mulgrew (presumably in dedication to late jazz pianist Mulgrew Miller) freely but respectfully portrays both the lyricism and exuberance of Toussaint’s fellow Messenger who passed away in 2013. And a third original composition, My Dear Ruby, strolls nonchantly from an ascending four-note tenor hook (maybe an inferred reversal, as suggested by the rearranged title, of Monk’s ‘Ruby My Dear’) – again, the detail offered by each instrumentalist here is worthy of close attention (McCormack, perhaps as ‘Thelonious’, just wonderful).

Rice (for C R Peppers) is an extended and ebullient swinger of a tune, teed up by the rapid unison bassline phrasing of Bartley and McCormack. Toussaint is unstoppable on tenor, as is McCormack at the piano, throwing in improvisatory idea after idea, and Blakey would no doubt have been impressed with Troy Miller’s aptitude for rock-steady rhythmic ingenuity. Title track Tate Song is a luscious ballad, Toussaint’s genial melodies so sensitively colour-washed by piano, bass and drums; and McCormack’s Tunnel Vision has all the accessible upbeat qualities of a Sixties standard, affording the pianist and his colleagues the space to showcase their spectacular skills.

The amiable, easy-going demeanour of the Strachey/Maschwitz favourite These Foolish Things is expertly balanced, as is Nascimento’s Vera Cruz, Toussaint warmly interpreting its South American flavour. Miller is particularly percussive here, creating a great vibe, and the gently-rhythmic yet sparklingly-chromatic piano is a highlight, buoyed by sturdy bass. To close, Andrew McCormack’s eight-minute, piano-based Vista finds Toussaint on soprano (reminiscent of the writer’s duo collaborations with Jason Yarde) – a brooding, slowly-building episode (not unlike Ravel’s ‘Bolero’!) in which the leader reveals an alternative aspect to his playing, improvising up through the key changes and increasing dynamic.

‘Tate Song’ is the latest in the fast-growing catalogue of jazz and other genres at LYTE Records – and, as always, crystal clear in its engineering and mixing. From a release date of 24 February 2014, the quartet will then tour fourteen UK dates, including Ronnie Scott’s, London (see below) – catch them, and the album, at a venue near you (also available from lyterecords.com, iTunes, etc.).


Jean Toussaint
tenor and soprano saxophones
Andrew McCormack piano
Larry Bartley bass
Troy Miller drums


Tour dates

14 March 2014: Walton-on-Thames – Riverhouse Arts Centre
16 March 2014: Colchester – Colchester Arts Centre
18 March 2014: London – Ronnie Scott’s
19 March 2014: Grimbsy – Grimsby Jazz
20 March 2014: Leeds – Seven Arts
21 March 2014: Sheffield – Millennium Hall
22 March 2014: Shrewsbury – The Hive
23 March 2014: Herts – Herts Jazz Club
24 March 2014: Cheltenham – The Everyman
27 March 2014: Cambridge – Cambridge Jazz Club
4 April 2014: Altrincham – The Cinnamon Club
5 April 2014: Gateshead – The Sage
6 April 2014: Bristol – Hen and Chicken
 


LYTE Records – LR022 (2014)

lyterecords.com