(Rainy Days Records. CD review by Fiona Mactaggart)
The album title, The Change, is apt. After a decade based in London where he has gained a significant following, saxophonist non-conformist Zhenya Strigalev has returned to live in his native St Petersburg, this being his first recording since his homecoming. Meanwhile a change for Argentina-born master guitarist Federico Dannemann might be his return to performance, having spent many years teaching in Santiago, joining Strigalev’s Never Group in 2016.
However, this album is also a jazz masterclass in constant change and thus a valued gift for those jazzers who may have a low boredom threshold.
The quartet is completed by two esteemed New York-based musicians, drummer Obed Calvaire and double bassist Luques Curtis, their long-standing friendship doubtless contributing to the secure rhythmic foundation for the leaders’ often off-piste expositions, and the band’s overall strong collaborative sense. Indeed, such is the confidence and cohesion, this band sounds like it’s been playing together for years.
The album consists of eight new tunes, the two leaders having penned four each. Dannemann’s punchy opener, Algo Rhythm introduces the style evidenced throughout the whole album, of mutually respectful interplay between, particularly, Dannemann’s jazz-rock and Strigalev’s witty, ever-seeking-the-final-frontier abstractions. Calvaire’s pattering drums lead to some serious rhythmic shenanigans whilst Strigalev demonstrates impressive breath control towards the end. Beautiful.
The second piece, Strigalev’s Pulse, begins softly and feels wonderfully free, as does his spacious Boo with its stuttering, modern-sounding drums, languid sax figures and inexorable whole-band crescendo gathering, before a quiet resolution.
Meanwhile Dannemann’s Coquille Du Terre allows the guitarist to demonstrate his funk and bop credentials as Strigalev’s sax undulates across octaves.
Fifth up is Strigalev’s truly cooperative enterprise, Speed Up, in which Curtis’ double bass and Calvaire’s drums are given fair chance to shine.
Next comes Dannemann’s stand-out title track with his melodic guitar figures and interesting vocals, rock rhythms and Strigalev’s eccentric voicings (intoning “change, change, change…”).
In a uniformly strong album, this reviewer’s favourite track is however the penultimate one: Strigalev’s Total Silence. It does indeed drop into silence briefly and appropriately on two occasions, but mostly is a dazzling romp, which at times sounds like anarchy but isn’t, and includes Strigalev charmingly introducing each band member. Magnificent.
Danneman’s final Pank opens at moderate tempo but soon balloons into McLaughlin-style guitar jazz-rock rambunction and free-spirited, Brotzman-style sax. The final note to this reviewer’s ear is just above the tonic, seeming to invite further change.
This outstanding and mutually generous, cooperative creative effort is probably Strigalev’s most consistently high quality and successful album to date. One hopes this exceptional quartet have a good few years of searching ahead of them.
The Change was released on Friday 7 June 2019.
Fiona Mactaggart lives in Edinburgh, plays a bit of drums and sometimes enthuses about music on her blog, Scottish Jazz Space.