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)

REVIEW: ‘Tenacity’ – Django Bates

TRULY A MAVERICK PIANIST, multi-instrumentalist, composer and educator in the world of contemporary jazz (Loose Tubes, Bill Bruford’s Earthworks, etc.), Django Bates has long been turning the traditional concept of ‘piano trio’ on its head in his Belovèd ensemble with bassist Petter Eldh and drummer Peter Bruun – so compelling to watch, in concert. Two superb albums – 2010’s Belovéd Bird and 2012’s Confirmation – demonstrated a continuing breadth of invention; the former, in particular, emphasizing his deep affinity with childhood hero Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker.

For those drawn to numeric tidiness, this year marks Bates’ 60th birthday, his 40th year as a professional musician, and the 100th anniversary of Parker’s birth. So a celebration of the ‘200’ seems entirely appropriate – and new album Tenacity sees the trio joining forces with the astonishingly adept, 14-piece Norrbotten Big Band (NBB). A number of arrangements of tracks from the aforementioned albums are included, interpreted on a grander scale, alongside original compositions such as twelve-minute sensory overload, The Study of Touch (the title track of his 2017 ECM album) which was commissioned by the NBB. The trio “travelled to the Arctic Circle” (Sweden) to record the album with them because, Django declares, “…any band who’s brave enough to ask me to write for them, gets the gig!”

That mutual spirit of adventure, impressively conveyed through Nick White’s detailed ‘craggy summit’ cover imagery, is explored with immense imagination. Bates stops at nothing to achieve a different take on ‘big band’, his studio wizardry manipulating the NBB’s prowess with aplomb; and both Eldh and Bruun maintain their key positions as creative alchemists and rhythm-makers.

The leader’s hallmarks of manically prancing energy, playful rallentandos and accelerandos, plus wonderfully detuned piano/synth, are ever present, and heard in uproarious takes on Parker’s Ah Leu Cha and Donna Lee – the latter, a particular stand-out. David Raksin’s Laura (from the 1940s movie) is both sumptuous and madcap, imbued with close-harmony horns and elegant piano, then unexpected electronic squiggles and squawks. But amidst all of this, the integrity of Bates’ pianism is never in doubt, rolling breathlessly through the intricate transformation of Bird’s Confirmation; and lush Star Eyes, with characteristic upward glissandi and twinkles, is ornamented more subtly by the big band, the electric guitar textures of Markus Pesonen in particular adding to its distant otherworldliness. Throughout, the ability to dramatically scale-up and further colorize previous compositions/reimaginings such as We Are Not Lost, We Are Simply Finding Our Way and My Little Suede Shoes is simply magnificent – and applause is due to the NBB for their technique and focus!

Overflowing with invention and verve, Tenacity is an album of continual discovery. Django Bates describes the title (and title track) as a suggestion for his audience: “Please hang on in there, the reward is not a spoonful of honey but it should be profound and lasting”. It’s certainly that, and also has me reaching for those trio albums to try to grasp a little of the thought process behind some of these opulent big band arrangements. “Best of luck with that”, went up the cry!

Released on 2 October 2020 and available from Proper Music.

 

BELOVÈD
Django Bates piano, vox
Petter Eldh double bass, vox
Peter Bruun drums, vox

NORRBOTTEN BIG BAND
Håkan Broström soprano sax
Jan Thelin clarinets
Mats Garberg flutes
Karl-Martin Almqvist tenor sax, clarinet
Per Moberg baritone sax
Bo Strandberg trumpet 1
Magnus Ekholm trumpet
Dan Johansson trumpet
Jacek Onuszkiewich trumpet
Peter Dahlgren trombone 1
Ashley Slater trombone
Björn Hängsel bass trombone
Daniel Herskedal tuba
Markus Pesonen electric guitar

djangobates.co.uk

Lost Marble – LM009 (2020)