Straight outta St. Petersburg, Rainy Days Records has done a splendid job of documenting some of the strongest emerging voices in Russian jazz, starting with drummer Sasha Mashin's superb Outsidethebox in 2018. Mashin's debut release belied his youth with an assured poise and dynamic vision, and here we have yet another wonderful first outing: alto saxophonist Makar Kashitsyn's Jazz Animals. In keeping with the spirit of this no-longer-fledgling label, Kashitsyn showcases the kinetic energy and breadth of concept Rainy Days is fast becoming known for.
One of the album's strongest assets is its personnel. With Mashin on the kit and Makar Novikov on bass, the rhythmic panache that is so pivotal to Kashitsyn's well-structured compositions is guaranteed, as the pieces do require ample agility to accommodate their shifts in mood and direction. In addition, tenor saxophonist Chad Lefkowitz-Brown and trumpeter Josh Evans point to Kashitsyn's ability to connect with first-rate talent in the States, and both generate some terrific harmony parts on several of the cuts, in addition to providing a good deal of heat when needed. Witness the former's torrid solo on his namesake track, "Song for Chad," or Evans' biting surges on the album's punchy title track.
But Kashitsyn's own technique is quite impressive on its own, with a lyrical sensitivity that glitters in dialogue with Lefkowitz-Brown on the low-simmering ballad, "Time to Forget," and a strikingly tough intensity on the album's hard-charging closer, "Phone Call." Kashitsyn's compositions also reveal a keen eye for making ideal use of his colleagues and, importantly, highlighting their strengths as much as his own; at no point does Kashitsyn try too hard to make sure he's getting the most attention as the disc's leader. He lets the music speak for itself in that regard. Case in point are the vocal tracks with Hiske Jeltine Oosterwijk, who is integrated seamlessly into the music, whether in the fusion-funk track "Our Song" or the more subdued musings of "Time to Forget," where her precise, spirited contributions lend additional layers to the music. It soon becomes clear that we're hearing a band with a real identity, and not simply a set of acquaintances brought in for a one-off recording date.
One of 2019's most promising debuts, Jazz Animals signals the riches to be found in the Russian jazz scene, not to mention the promise inherent in the international partnerships that can only bode well for the future of the music.
Jazz Animals; Going to Ekaterinburg; Confession; Song for Chad; Our Song; Time to Forget; Phone Call.
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