(Basho Records. CD review by Dominic Williams)
Yuri Goloubev, the leader, composer and arranger of all the pieces on this album, spent about 14 years holding the double bass chair in Russian classical orchestras, before deciding in 2004 to devote himself to jazz. He is joined here by long-time collaborators Tim Garland (saxophones) and Asaf Sirkis (drums). John Turville (piano) has played less with Goloubev previously but has a long relationship with the other two. Garland and Turville also studied classical music, and all four musicians are band leaders and composers in their own right.
Goloubev says he set out to write music for a soprano saxophone quartet with a strong emphasis on melodic lines, underpinned by complex harmony and interplay between the musicians, with his own solos seeking “to emulate the phrasing of a hypothetical wind instrument or piano”.
The result is just what you would hope for from that description. It is a sparkling set, integrating the wit and structure of classical influences with the freedom of jazz, giving ample room for each player to express themselves. While adjectives like “cerebral”, “sophisticated” and “precise” spring to mind, it is never too clever for its own good and always conveys warmth and humanity as well as a lot of wit. Moreover, while it gives the initial impression of being “European” chamber jazz, never more than medium tempo, and more at home in Kings Place than the Jazz Café, it actually runs through a surprisingly big range of emotions and moods. Generally, each piece has a strong opening concept that is not just a tune but also references a mood, a place or musical history. The pieces are then allowed to develop away from the introduction harmonically and structurally with a lot of interplay, rather than being three instruments marking time behind a solo. While Goloubev and Garland carry the melody line, it gives Turville a lot of room to fill in the complex harmonies, which he does with subtle refinement. Sirkis is toned down in the mix and probably sounds much more prominent live but here it emphasizes his delicacy and colouring.
The first track, Beethoven & Schubert: Friends?, is based on a sonata by each of the two composers and showcases the hypothetical wind instrument on the melody line as well as contributions from Garland and Turville, all divided into short sections with different structures, like the original classical pieces. Two Chevrons Apart is a slow dreamy lyrical piece with a more jazz-like structure and traces of an ECM aesthetic. Just Another Week has a faster tempo and features Garland on tenor, a well-judged break from the soprano, which can become cloying if over-used. Dead End Date has a contemplative piano intro before the sax introduces the lyrical main theme. Cemetery Symmetry begins as a funeral march but wanders off in several different directions. Sweet Nothings, another tenor led-track, begins with a jaunty military two step rhythm and a melody with a mittel Europa feel, then a couple of time changes in the middle just to keep you on your toes. Elegiac is exactly what it claims to be. Parisian Episode VII is a recurrent riff on bass which is passed around the instruments at the start of each solo.
The CD cover features a solo photo of Goloubev, gazing diagonally upwards at the light, like a hero of the Soviet Union in a Serge Eisenstein film. It’s a great picture but it doesn’t quite capture the spirit of this album which is a fine piece of democratic playing by an ensemble of four acknowledged masters of their art. These players are all in their prime and there is a sense that they are ready to and willing to take jazz forward to new places over the next decade or three.
Categories: CD review
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