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Zhenya Strigalev: Never Group

Roger Farbey By

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Tim Lefebvre was the last bassist to record with David Bowie. He's featured on Blackstar, arguably Bowie's best and certainly most poignant album. Drummer Eric Harland has recorded with Charles Lloyd's Quartet, Dave Holland, Joshua Redman and McCoy Tyner. These two musicians form the essential backbone of Russian-born, London-based alto saxophonist Zhenya Strigalev's trio who dominate this seventy three minute recording. Guest Bruno Liberda on electronics is not a jazz musician but a composer and academic and plays on four tracks he co-wrote with Strigalev. There are additional small cameos from Matt Penman on double bass, John Escreet on keyboards and Alex Bonney on trumpet.

Strigalev has assembled twenty, mainly short, tracks with one or two longer pieces recorded in Berlin in 2015. The parodical intro sets the tone for the ensuing nineteen numbers and although it's easy to misinterpret this as comedy music, it most decidedly isn't. This opening track, a pastiche of a BBC type announcer describing the music, is also not a million miles from the spoken introduction to Captain Beefheart's "Yellow Brick Road" from his Safe As Milk album. Whilst there is a playful Zappa-esque edge to the set, there's also more than a hint of electric-period Ornette Coleman. "Bio Active" for example follows this line with electric bass and drums underpinning the bluesy, wailing alto saxophone and so it is with "Strange Party," "Second Hand" and "Hot Exactly."

Some of the relatively more conventional tracks include the likes of "Some Thomas" which could easily be (mis)interpreted as a bizarre yet ebullient deconstruction of Sonny Rollins's "St Thomas." There are however also some electrifyingly killer takes, commencing with "Strange Party (Coda 2)," a dynamite-infused bass and drums wig out. Harland and Lefevre take credit for seven of these largely improvised tracks, all of which are identified by a parenthetic coda number and all of which share similarly high intensity performances. The electronically speeded-up "Reading Shakespeare" sports a tantalisingly familiar classical quote. The short pieces "Bassgeingengeister," "Plasticksackerl Im Wind" and "Heimwehharfe" feature Liberda and Strigalev, Liberda's electronics adding a surreal yet vital element to the mix.

Whilst it's true that the seven "Coda" pieces have a tendency to break-up the overall consistency of the album, taken as a whole, the twenty tracks form an addictive mix of colourful vignettes which oscillate from the plaintive missives of Albert Ayler to the more strident, electrifying tones of say, Steve Coleman's M-Base recordings. On the basis of this excellent recording, and in direct contradiction to the album's title, Strigalev's group could well be the next big thing in jazz.

Track Listing: I Messed Up At The End Of My Solo (Intro); Bio Active; Not Upset (coda 1); Bassgeingengeister; Some Thomas; Strange Party (coda 2); Plastiksackerl Im Wind; Little Struggle (coda 3); Strange Party; Reading Shakespeare; Second Hand; Heimwehharfe; Snail; Reading Shakespeare (coda 4); Hot Exactly; Strange Party (coda 5); Not Upset (coda 6); Are you Manageable?; The Slow Rub; Not Upset (coda 7).

Personnel: Zhenya Strigalev: alto saxophone; Tim Lefebvre: electric bass; Eric Harland: drums; Plus guests: Bruno Liberda: electronics; Matt Penman: double bass; John Escreet: keyboards; Alex Bonney: trumpet; Charles Armstrong: voice intro.

Title: Never Group | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Whirlwind Recordings Ltd

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