As an admirer of big bands all over the world, I've waited years to hear a well-endowed, swinging ensemble from Russia, and here at last it is, charging boldly into the labyrinthine Eternal Triangle behind its charismatic leader, tenor saxophonist Igor Butman.
Butman is a jazz superstar in his native country, and his band is so highly regarded that it was invited by none other than Wynton Marsalis to share the stage with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra to open the JALC concert season in September '03. Butman's ensemble more than held its ground that evening, and now, more than three years onward, comes its debut recording, and to note that it affirms the band's prowess would be understating the case.
Ben Ratliff, who covered the JALC performance for The New York Times, compared Butman as an improviser to Marsalis, but I'll go him one better. To me, he sounds much like a Russian version of the late great Tubby Hayes, and to readers in Great Britain, there could be few more favorable comparisons. Those in the States should think Jimmy Heath with traces of James Moody, Hank Mobley, George Coleman and even Stan Getz.
Butman, as resourceful a composer as he is a player, wrote seven of the album's nine numbers; the other two are Sonny Stitt's "Triangle and Vitaly Dolgov's "Bolero. The arrangements, all by Dolgov, are invariably bright and engaging. Besides the "Bolero, there's a graceful "Waltz for Oksana, a charming "Samba de Igor, a debonair "Blues of a Tired Man, a lyrical "French Connections, a genial salute to "Strange and Beautiful Siberia, and a pair of exuberant flag-wavers, "Bulit and "Falling Out.
Good as Butman is, the band is equally adept, and every one of its soloists is impressive. There is one "ringer, guest trumpeter Randy Brecker, who is typically persuasive on "Triangle, "Tired Man and "Siberia but has to work hard to outmuscle trumpeters Vitaly Golovnev ("Bulit ) and Artem Kovalchuk ("Falling Out ). Pianist Anton Baronin is another standout, as are trombonists Vadim Akhmetgareev and Alexey Sekatsky, tenor Dmitry Mospan, baritone Alexander Dovgopoly, guitarist Pavel Chekmakovsky, bassist Vitaly Solomonov and drummer Eduard Zizak, who also leads the ensemble's stalwart rhythm section.
The clear and inescapable verdict is that this is an outstanding band, Butman is a forceful and inventive player, and The Eternal Triangle is a consistently sharp and rewarding album.
Personnel: Igor Butman: leader, tenor, soprano saxophone; Vladimir Mamyko: trumpet; Vladimir Galatkionov, Vadim
Eilenkrig, Artem Kovalchuk, Vitaly Golovnev: trumpet, flugelhorn; Oleg Grymov, Konstantin Safyanov: alto sax;
Dmitry Mospan: tenor sax; Alexander Dovgopoly: baritone sax, flute; Alexey Sekatsky, Alexander Ageev,
Alexander Konovalov: trombone; Vadim Adhmetgareev: bass trombone; Pavel Chekmakovsky: electric, acoustic
guitar; Anton Baronin: piano; Vitaly Solomonov: bass; Eduard Zizak: drums. Special guest artist: Randy Brecker: