Smiling Organizm by Zhenya Strigalev
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About: Smiling Organizm
Release date: June 4th, 2012: Worldwide Stores & Digital
Smiling Organizm is the debut Whirlwind Recordings release by Russian native, London based alto saxophonist Zhenya Strigalev. This project’s gestation began in late 2010 when Strigalev decided to head to New York for an extended stay, hunkering down on friends sofas and immersing himself in the city’s buzzing jazz scene. Returning the following summer he rehearsed, wrote and recorded his new project in June 2011. Bringing together a molten mix of swing, fusion, funk, ballads, free improv and hard-driving post-bop Smiling Organizm is a rollercoaster ride through today’s urban jazz jungle. It’s also buzzing with hook-laden melodies that ensnare your ear and won’t let go, be it opening blast of ‘Fletcher’, or the sneaky groove of ‘Anchovies’ or the sparse sax-and-bass intro melody of ‘Fairy Stairs’, this is music that’s as immediate as it is exciting.
There’s high drama too on the insistent bebop-and-break beats of ‘Fletcher’, with Zhenya opening up his solo with some fearsome double-time lines that skitter all over the modal vamp. He then passes the solo baton to New York-based trumpeter, and fellow countryman, Vitaly Golovnyov who makes several strong contributions throughout the album. There’s heavy experimentation as well on the astonishing freeform deconstruction of the album’s only cover (written in 1955 by composer Vasily Solovyov-Sedoi and poet Mikhail Matusovsky)‘Midnight In Moscow’. And while Strigalev’s attitudinal alto is impressive throughout, his strong compositions and inspired band leading skills also shine.
The band’s rocket-fuelled rhythm section includes the stellar talents of Brad Mehldau/FLY double bassist Larry Grenadier, and the pungently funky bass guitar of Wayne Krantz/Rudder man Tim Lefebvre – each taking the music down diverting acoustic and electric avenues. They both link seamlessly with drummer extraordinaire Eric Harland (Charles Lloyd/Dave Holland) who crackles with energy across the entire set, providing an endless stream of whip cracking beats. Zhenya wanted to retain some of the edginess of his adoptive London scene so he invited widely acclaimed UK pianist Liam Noble along too, who seals each composition with deft harmonic touches and exciting solos.
It speaks volumes about Zhenya’s stylistically open approach to composition that the album unfolds like a series of city scenes, a set of compelling micro dramas packed with narrative excitement. As he says New York provides a fertile environment for making new music; “It’s inspiring when you see people practicing and playing in a variety of projects and there are a lot of places where you can try new music. You’ll often see well-known musicians playing in unexpected line-ups. Making a living is even more difficult there but in terms of searching for new ideas I think people are a bit more active [than London] and try and play with lots of people – sometimes over here there can be borders between certain groups of musicians. But in London I can see that things have been changing for a last few years and if it keeps going in this direction it could be really good. It's also nice to see more collaborative projects appearing now between contemporary UK and US/European jazz musicians. From my side I was trying to contribute to that by setting up and running jazz nights at Hoxton's now well known jazz spot Charlie Wright's as well as co/artistic Director of two additions of Partager Festival which goal was to bring together innovative UK, French and American Musicians.”
Indeed he met pianist Liam Noble (best known for his Brubeck inspired trio and his work with award-winning singer Christine Tobin), in London and he’s the conceptual link between the two cities. His contribution to the album is invaluable – and revealing – in that he plays acoustic piano in both acoustic and electric settings, as Zhenya explains; “That’s exactly what I wanted for this project, always real piano, no Rhodes or keyboards and the person who is inventive and could be funky on piano for groove tunes and proper jazz player on jazz tunes – is Liam. We had played together one time at some jam session at Charlie Wrights, but I heard his albums and at concerts and I always liked his playing very much because nobody plays like him. I think his playing is also similar to my perspective, how I see playing, the way I try to bring a lot of things together, because he can play free, he can play straight ahead, he play all kinds of different stuff – but with meaning.”
Another theme that runs through the album is Zhenya’s love of swing and giving it a modern feel. Sometimes this approach can be perceived as, and sound dated because it’s played it in an old fashioned way. Yet for Zhenya the most important aspect of swing in jazz is the way it gives an unstoppable momentum to a soloist, “One of my favourite people is Sonny Rollins, he’s one of the people who is always trying to improvise, without trying to play clichés. Nowadays it’s not about playing precise it’s about the articulation – you can play very precisely like a metronome, but that doesn’t groove.”
Having been ensconced among some of the world’s finest jazz musicians and played, listened and watched them deep in the creative process, the resulting music reflects Zhenya’s restlessly imaginative style. Melodically accessible yet possessing the rock-edged attitude of NYC’s Downtown scene Smiling Organizm happily leaps between deep swing, free improv, modal chords and darting post-bop passages. The perfect distillation of jazz forged at the cutting edge this album emphatically marks Strigalev’s arrival as a creative force in his own right.
"[Zhenya Strigalev] is a fascinating old-school/cutting-edge hybrid, with a formidable bebop-rooted sax technique, a burgeoning talent for composition, and an engaging willingness to take a chance."
"Held together by sheer bravura, raw energy and no shortage of well-placed virtuosity, Strigalev and his band whip up a a delightfully free-flowing musical storm...Smiling Organizm is Strigalev's fifth and best album to date."
Bass Guitar Magazine
"This dashing young Russian emigré is a fearless jammer....He’s in typically fast company here, leading an international sextet including fellow Russian trumpeter Vitaly Golovnev, chameleonic London pianist Liam Noble and the all-American drum’n’bass team of Eric Harland and Larry Grenadier. Bass-guitarist Tim Lefebvre joins the mix for some nimble neobop, muscular funk and a hilariously punked-up version of Midnight in Moscow. Good value If you like fun and originality with your contemporary jazz."
4 Stars, CD of the Week, Evening Standard
"This well constructed album, in which the leader is backed by A-list players [pianist Liam Noble, bassists Larry Grenadier and Tim Lefebvre, drummer Eric Harland and trumpeter Vitaly Golovnev] is worth an hour and a quarter of your day, even in this era where so many are ‘time poor’... Lefebvre’s growling fuzz bass on Midnight In Moscow is arresting."
"London-based alto saxophonist brings his crackling, innovative spirit to new album Smiling Organizm, inspired by a recent sampling of New York's downtown scene....ineffably cool grooves with memorable riffs, free-improv-infused breakouts and fast-talking bebop."
“[Smiling Organizm] has all the knife-edge momentum and skilled improvisatory abandon of its leader… chock-full of playful twists and turns, Strigalev’s UK debut is what you might call a real cliche-free ride.”
"In the style of Downtown New York compositional focus, [Smiling Organizm] casts swing to the extremes, mixing postbop frosting on the edge of rock. The essence of the album rests in the search for a common language & sense of humor between a varied cast of musicians from around the world."
The Kommersant, (Russia)
"Scorching mix of edgy post-bop and gritty fusion, all served up by a stellar US/UK line up."
Time Out, London
"An irresistibly lively but musicianly album from a stellar band. 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."
"Smiling Organizm” is an impressive statement. Rooted in bebop but not hidebound by it the album has a highly contemporary edge and an urgent, unmistakably urban sound."
The Jazz Mann
"[Smiling Organizm] should appeal equally to the grunge jazz crew as it does to the admirers of instrumental technique."
The Jazz Breakfast
"The line-up is mightily impressive with some of the cream of US session musicians such as bassist Larry Grenadier (integral part of of Brad Mehldau trio), Eric Harland on drums (Charles Lloyd/Jason Moran), the excellent UK pianist Liam Noble (Christine Tobin and others) and fellow Russian and obvious be-bop devotee, trumpeter Vitaly Golovnev."
"[On Smiling Organizm] Strigalev's alto-playing sometimes resembles a faster and even more demented Art Pepper – well suited to the parts of this set that resemble a cartoon-movie score as played by Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers. The studio band is dazzlingly driven by New York's great Charles Lloyd drummer Eric Harland and Brad Mehldau bassist Larry Grenadier, with New York avant-funk electric bassist Tim Lefebvre contributing to the more abstract passages...Hearing Liam Noble at full stretch with one of the world's great bass and drums partnerships is a big plus."