(Whirlwind Recordings WR4624. CD review by Chris Parker)
Having spent the five years since his graduation from London’s Royal Academy of Music commuting between the London and New York jazz scenes, altoist Zhenya Strigalev might have been expected to people his fifth album as leader with musically compatible souls, and his choices are indeed irreproachable.
Strigalev has a penchant for both blazing post-bop acoustic jazz, and for imaginative funk, so lining up both upright bassist Larry Grenadier and electric bassist Tim Lefebvre was eminently sensible; pianist Liam Noble is an inexhaustibly inventive soloist in both modes, and drummer Eric Harland is as at home with the contemplative, relatively straightahead jazz of Charles Lloyd as he is with the multi-hued sound of Joshua Redman.
With vibrant trumpeter Vitaly Golovnev proving to be a telling front-line foil for the dry-toned, sinuous flair of the leader, the band is perfectly equipped to deal with a varied, consistently lively (sometimes downright perky) set of Strigalev originals, plus a thorough deconstruction of the old Kenny Ball staple, (composed in 1955 as the song ‘Leningrad Nights’), ‘Midnight in Moscow’.
Whirlwind Recordings seem to specialise in intense, passionate music that calls upon all the virtuosity and commitment of its participants, and Smiling Organizm fits right into the ‘house style’: the solo strengths of Strigalev, Golovnev and Noble (the last particularly impressive in the funky jam that is ‘Permandent’, but also adept at firing off characteristically succinct, pithy solos in more overtly jazz-based material) are what immediately impress in this fiery collection, but the propulsive strength of the bassists and the resourcefulness of Harland are the glue that binds the whole together.
An irresistibly lively but musicianly album from a stellar band.