The young Russian alto saxophonist ZHENYA STRIGALEV released a new album “Robin Goodie” (Whirlwind) on February 2nd. In advance of a major tour of Euopean clubs, and US dates in June, Peter Jones interviewed him:
Zhenya Strigalev‘s music is so eclectic, it defies easy categorization. His second album, Robin Goodie, is launched at Ronnie Scott’s next week, and is apparently inspired by the time he has spent living in England, where he graduated from the Royal Academy of Music in 2007. Later, he says, he started the Charlie Wright’s jam in Shoreditch, at a time when there weren’t as many late-night jazz jams around as there are now. Since then he has spent time in New York, sleeping on the sofa of a bass-playing friend, while he checked out the jamming scene there. And somehow he has also found time to tour all over Europe.
The album title Robin Goodie has something or other to do with Robin Hood and his merry men galloping about on horses, and the boogie-woogie rhythm such activity allegedly inspires. (Really, it’s better not to ask.) One unusual feature of his band is that it features two bass players – one acoustic, one electric. It goes without saying that this combination could be a recipe for chaos in the wrong hands. But Strigalev is a talented arranger as well as composer, and uses his two bassists in very different ways. ‘On my first album I had both, but never playing at the same time. Then I started writing tunes where I wanted a swing feel one moment, and something funkier the next,’ he explains.
Every time you think his music is spinning off into spiky self-indulgence, it rights itself and comes out with something surprisingly gentle and melodic. The edgy mixture of sweet and sour is reminiscent of Tomasz Stanko. At other times it could be ESP-era Miles Davis. And when it gets funky, think not of Bootsie Collins but Captain Beefheart.
Something else audiences have noticed is that Strigalev holds the saxophone very high, causing his head to stick up at an angle of 45 degrees. It looks downright uncomfortable, if not actually hazardous to life and limb. Why? ‘I get less pain than I used to. After six hours of practice, my neck used to get very painful, but the way I play now, the weight goes on to my shoulders. It makes me feel more relaxed and confident, and also the air goes straight from my throat.’
All the frenetic activity of the last few years has brought him into contact with some very accomplished players. The rest of the sextet known as Smiling Organizm is fluid, personnel-wise: on the album it consists entirely of American musicians, including Brad Meldau Trio double bassist Larry Grenadier and in-demand electric bassist Tim Lefebvre.
At Ronnie Scott’s the band will consist of Eric Harland (who also plays on the album) on drums, Britain’s own Liam Noble on piano, plus Alex Sipiagin on trumpet, plus bassists Linley Marthe (electric) and Matt Penman (acoustic).
After three full listens to the album, I still don’t feel I’ve heard everything there is to hear, but that’s a good thing. This gig promises to be intriguing at the very least.
TOUR DATES – Smiling Organizm “Robbin Goodie” CD release tour
Zhenya Strigalev with Alex Sipiagin, Liam Noble, Matt Penman, Linley Marthe, Eric Harland
Jimmy Glass 11-02-15 Valencia ES
Bogui Jazz 12-02-15 Madrid ES
Unterfahrt 13-02-15 Munich D
Porgy and Bess 14-02-15 Vienna AT
World of Basses 15-02-15 Reutlingen D
A-Trane17-02-15 Berlin D
CD release PARTY – RONNIE SCOTTS 18-02-15 London UK
Hot Club 19-02-15 Lyon FR
La Crescent 20-02-15 Macon, FR
As above, with Aaron Parks replacing Liam Noble, Matt Garrison replacing Linley Marthe
Smalls Jazz Club, New York 11-06-15 US
ShapeShifter Lab, New York 12-06-15 US