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Album Review

Boris Kozlov: First Things First

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Boris Kozlov: First Things First
Bassist Boris Kozlov, pianist Art Hirahara and drummer Rudy Royston often operate as the rhythm section on sessions for the venerable Posi-Tone Records imprint. Regardless of the leader they are serving, they deliver a coherent foundation and frequently extend themselves beyond the parameters of a conservative, strictly supportive role. In short, it is never predictable what they—collectively and individually—will do next, yet the wheels never fall off, and the music is the better for their dazzling, spontaneous flights. Some of trio's most impressive performances to date are on Hirahara's Open Sky (Posi-Tone, 2021), a smashing release which refuses to follow narrow, predictable stylistic parameters.

The same catholic quality pervades First Things First, Kozlov's debut as a leader for Posi-Tone. In addition to Hirahara and Royston, Kozlov is joined by another of the label's regulars, vibraphonist Behn Gillece, and by the protean tenor saxophonist & alto flutist Donny McCaslin. The band explores a wide range of material and take chances as a means of shaping collective triumphs. Some of the startling leaps in tone and emphasis spread out over eleven cuts include "Once A Fog In Babylon," Kozlov's medley of nearly forgotten Russian music which, with the help of Hirahara's organ, expands to the point of sounding prog-like, McCaslin's hearty jazz-funk tunes, "Page One" and "Second Line Sally," a couple of suave, medium- paced, straight-ahead jazz lines, "The More Things Change" (by Hirahara) and "Warm Sand" (by Kozlov) and a lovely, brief rendition of Charles Mingus's "Eclipse"; and "Viscous," attributed to Kozlov and driven by the group's capacity for exploring freer forms.

McCaslin's tenor often suggests someone dead-set on huffing and puffing their way to the top of a long, steep hill. The braying, whining and cantankerousness of his licks and repetitive phrases thrive on the pressure afforded by Kozlov, Hirahara and Royston, who are always more than happy to raise the stakes. A couple of stunning duo interludes by McCaslin and Royston (on "I.S. Adventure" and "Once A Fog In Babylon") are impressive for not suggesting the often imitated but never equalled John Coltrane and Elvin Jones excursions. At times McCaslin and Royston are like boxers intent on landing punches; in other instances, they dodge each other with child-like glee. The rhythm section surrounds and grabs hold of Gillece during his "I.S. Adventure" solo. Undaunted, he delivers a rousing, coherent statement, while Royston's bold, rapid-fire snare drum eruptions spur an ecstatic climax.

First Things First is a fitting demonstration of Kozlov's resources as a bassist, composer, arranger, and bandleader. Here's hoping that Posi-Tone will continue to document his considerable talents.

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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