fri 25/09/2020

Zhenya Strigalev's Smiling Organizm, Ronnie Scott's | reviews, news & interviews

Zhenya Strigalev's Smiling Organizm, Ronnie Scott's

Zhenya Strigalev's Smiling Organizm, Ronnie Scott's

Young Russian saxophonist's group of improvising superstars sets Ronnie Scott's alight

Saxophonist Zhenya Strigalev

The musical concept behind this constellation of international stars at Ronnie Scott’s last night was simple. Take a sextet of some of the world’s finest improvising jazz musicians, give them either a funky groove, gentle swing or a bass-fired post-bop beat, and ample space to improvise. Sit back and enjoy the sonic fireworks.

The musical concept behind this constellation of international stars at Ronnie Scott’s last night was simple. Take a sextet of some of the world’s finest improvising jazz musicians, give them either a funky groove, gentle swing or a bass-fired post-bop beat, and ample space to improvise. Sit back and enjoy the sonic fireworks.

Russian alto saxist Zhenya Strigalev is only half a dozen years out of music college, but has already played extensively in three cities, moving to London from St. Petersburg to study, then on again to New York in 2010, where he recruited most of Smiling Organizm. He’s assembled some of the most distinguished players in the world for each instrument, and leads them himself. Full marks for ambition.

Strigalev’s sound world - slickly arranged varieties of bop, funk or swing - is not, in itself, an original one, but the performances, especially the solo work, crackled cordite through a packed Ronnie Scott’s. Double bassist Larry Grenadier comes to the band from the trios of Pat Metheny and Brad Mehldau, and his bass lines, some bowed, some fingered, ranged from an almost baroque counterpoint to a machine-gun fingered beat. The funk bass was supplied by Linley Marthe on bass guitar, who combined lightning fretboard work with a gloriously fat, elasticated sound. His solos bubbled and spat like an angry geyser.

Drummer Eric Harland has a CV like an index of New York jazz, and his immense solo during "Horizontal Appreciation" was encyclopaedic in its stylistic derivation, with brain-melting cross-currents of rhythm. Pianist Liam Noble, the only British member of the band, played a kind of brilliant magpie piano, with exhilarating bursts of chattering black and white energy, stealing phrases from the heart of a piece.  

The pieces were a touch cute, feeling a little like stylistic digests, but when the solos they elicit are as good as these, few will care

Strigalev coaxes a pert, winsome tone from his alto, especially striking during the short passages of duet with Ambrose Akinmusire’s sourly lyrical trumpet. His whimsical phrasing and brilliant occasional use of a strangulated, warbling effect added much tonal colour. The youngest member of the band after Strigalev himself, Akinmusire is hugely feted in New York, and doesn’t play here much, so his performance was keenly anticipated. During the first set he sounded a little distracted, but it all came together in the second set. He was technically scintillating and harmonically dense, with runs of notes crunched together like chords and an uncanny ability to bend and warp the note.   

The pieces, mainly Strigalev’s own compositions, had a spacious, leisurely feel, even where the melody hustled. Clearly written with soloing opportunities in mind, some were a touch cute, feeling a little like stylistic digests, but when the solos they elicit are as good as these, few will care. The band’s debut album came out in 2012 to mixed reviews, some of which suggested an uneven quality and seriousness in Strigalev’s compositions. With the exception of a swinging "Midnight in Moscow", livelier than the album version, the repertoire has changed, but Strigalev’s showmanship remains irrepressible. What a show it was. 

Pianist Liam Noble played a kind of brilliant magpie piano, with exhilarating bursts of chattering black and white energy, stealing phrases from the heart of a piece

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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