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Boris Kozlov: First Things First

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Boris Kozlov: First Things First
During the early days of pandemic-induced isolation, old folkways and techniques suddenly became new again (remember the shortages of baking yeast and canning supplies?). The old ways are nothing new at Posi-Tone records, which has maintained an unflagging allegiance to swing, juicy melodies and fiery playing. Those qualities, all present on bassist Boris Kozlov's First Things First, situate this recording firmly within Posi-Tone's house style, one that calls back to the glory days of Blue Note Records. So, it's no surprise that this session was made in the manner of classic Blue Note sessions.

Like those sessions, First Things First begins with a great rhythm section: pianist Art Hirahara and drummer Rudy Royston. Posi-Tone founder and producer Marc Free used them on trumpeter Alex Sipiagin's Upstream (2021) and on Maximum Enjoyment (2018) by the collective Something Blue. Joined by vibraphonist and occasional A&R guy Behn Gillece, they gathered for four days in August, 2020 to record sessions that would eventually be issued as Hirahara's Open Sky (2021) and Gillece's Still Doing Our Thing. (2021) According to Kozlov's notes to the recording, Free was so pleased with the results that the four became a house rhythm section for a number of Posi-Tone sessions recorded later that fall.

Like a college basketball team that starts five highly recruited seniors, this rhythm section plays with a balance of freedom and discipline that's rare in today's contingent, project-oriented bandscape. And when Free called Donny McCaslin to turn one of their sessions into Kozlov's Posi-Tone debut as a leader, the team was complete.

Despite their workload, there's no evidence of complaisance or routine on First Things First. Instead, the band's chemistry fuels joyous music making that explodes out of your speakers. It's as though they couldn't wait to get this music out. And given the isolation and grimness of the year, who can blame them?

Of the eleven tunes, six are by the leader, two by McCaslin and one each by Gillece and Hirahara, with Charles Mingus's "Eclipse" the lone non original. They cover a vast stylistic range. McCaslin's "Page One" is a modern update on the title cut Joe Henderson's iconic 1963 Blue Note album of the same name never had. Henderson is also evoked in Kozlov's "I.S. Adventure," but mainly in McCaslin's tumbling, cascading solo; the "I.S." of the title is Igor Stravinsky. The Moscow-born bassist looks back to his homeland again on "Once A Fog In Babylon," a suite of ancient Russian folk tunes that culminates in a thunderous, tornadic Royston solo.

Yet there are quieter moments, too, starting with "Flow," a serene showcase for flute, vibes, hand percussion and the composer's expressive electric bass. "Warm Sand" shows how group interplay can chart a throughline at a relaxed tempo, one that's just a few beats per minute easier than the flowing, Basie-esque stroll of Hirahara's sparkling "The More Things Change."

It seems almost obligatory these days to program a tune set to a New Orleans party beat, but McCaslin's "Second Line Sally" ups the ante on Hirahara's tootling B-3 and Kozlov's strutting bass with a swagger and energy that's pure Manhattan. It's musical shrimp po' boy served from a Times Square dirty water hotdog cart, and it's delicious—as is the entire record.

Can we please have another?

Track Listing

Page One; Flow; The More Things Change; I.S. Adventure; Aftermath; Second Line Sally; Viscous; Mind Palace; Warm Sand; Once A Fog In Babylon; Eclipse.

Personnel

Boris Kozlov: bass; Donny McCaslin: saxophone, tenor; Art Hirahara: piano; Behn Gillece: vibraphone; Rudy Royston: drums.

Album information

Title: First Things First | Year Released: 2022 | Record Label: Posi-Tone Records

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