CD REVIEW: Zhenya Strigalev’s Smiling Organizm – Robin Goodie

Zhenya Strigalev’s Smiling Organizm – Robin Goodie
(Whirlwind Recordings WR4665. CD review by Andy Boeckstaens)

UK jazz fans will have known about Zhenya Strigalev for some time, but many – looking at the St Petersburg-born alto saxophonist’s new CD – may be intrigued by its cover and will be asking the question, “Who is Robin Goodie?”

Strigalev explained IN THIS INTERVIEW that the disc “is in some way dedicated to England and my time here…a mixture of Robin Hood and Boogie Woogie”. You’ll be hard pushed to find any boogie woogie, but Strigalev’s band of merry men shows some of the traits – strong personalities, rebelliousness – associated with the legend. The sleeve depicts Strigalev in a forest – in Russia? Nottinghamshire? – near an abandoned house where he worked on several tunes that eventually made it to the album (which was recorded in New Jersey).

The eleven compositions – all by Strigalev – are frequently unsettling. The album opens with its longest track, KUKU. It has unison passages for the leader and trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, a pleasing theme and the occasional hook; yet the melodic and rhythmic motifs change every few moments. Several other selections have an equal restlessness, and demand stamina to navigate through a bewilderingly dense landscape of sound.

After urgently boppish passages by Strigalev and brushwork from drummer Eric Harland – penetrating, subtle and faultless as ever – Sharp Night takes on an altogether different hue. There’s a rapturous section led by pianist Taylor Eigsti; Larry Grenadier on double bass, and bass guitarist Tim Lefebvre shudder with nervous energy; and an oft-repeated trumpet note provides stability in the maelstrom. It’s a magical masterstroke that shows the band at its zenith.

Personal Opinion begins as conventionally as anything on the disc with an inviting riff, then dissolves into a collective improvisation after a couple of minutes. I may not fully understand Ornette Coleman’s controversial theory of harmolodics, but this interactive episode is reminiscent of stuff that Prime Time did in the 80s. Just as alto sax, bass guitar and drums are blowing up a storm on the title track, the flow is suddenly interrupted by Strigalev saying “Hi, my name is Robin Goodie”, and the trumpet solo that follows fails to recapture the spirit. But Akinmusire’s gorgeous work on the following track, Lorton, makes up for it, and is matched by a fine contribution by Eigsti.

Instrumentally, Strigalev treads a fine line between poise and fragility on Unlimited Source of Pleasure, and his tone is at its purest as he throws in a few quotations during Urgent Ballad. His greatest strength, however, appears to lie in the ability to write for a frequently-shifting roster of band-mates who take risks and thrive on creating fleeting beauty from enigmatic, open-ended sketches.

Unless your musical mind is highly developed, you probably won’t be humming these melodies on the bus in the morning. But – whatever its origins – Robin Goodie is highly absorbing, and there is much magnificent music to savour.

LINK: Zhenya Strigalev at Whirlwind Records

Categories: miscellaneous

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