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Oleg Kireyev and Keith Javors: The Meeting


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: Oleg Kireyev and Keith Javors: The Meeting
How far must a reeds virtuoso from Bashkiria—a town in the Ural Mountains, southeast of Moscow towards Mongolia—and a pianist-composer-educator from southern Illinois, now living in Philadelphia, have to go to get together? Not very, based on the music Oleg Kireyev and Keith Javors arrive at on The Meeting. Simply to a shared sense of joy in swinging rhythms, warm, rich harmonies and singable songs.

In their second co-led album Kireyev and Javors offer more delightful proof that music made by talented people who listen to each other leaps geographic, cultural and even temporal chasms. Performing five original compositions and two re-imaginings of American songbook standards, Kireyev and Javors with stellar collaboration from trumpeter Tom Harrell, bassist Ben Williams and drummer E.J. Strickland renew the air of mellow uplift they attained on their 2010 debut Rhyme and Reason. The two principals reinforce a partnership beyond borders they began in 2006 via serendipity, curiosity and the Internet, producing a gift of jazz for the enjoyment of everyone, every where.

Oleg discovered Keith while surfing the 'net in search of creative musicians, and was instantly intrigued. "He has his own identity, a memorable style of play," Oleg wrote in a recent email. "I was impressed by his rich melodicism, beautiful harmonies and grasp as a composer. His wattage is in sync with my inner world." As curator of the Moscow Union of Composers Club, the Russian saxophonist invited the American pianist to visit and play. Why not? They hit it off and toured Poland and Russia. Then Javors arranged for Kireyev to come to the U.S. First stop: Blues Alley in Washington, D.C.

"You often hear it said that people play how they are, who they are," Javors said in a phone conversation, "and between Oleg and me, it's true. We have a personal and musical rapport. It involves mutual sensitivity. Our musical strengths have to do with our abilities to listen to each other—empathy, which stems from our friendship. Oleg does a lot of different ethno-musicological projects, and is a good adapter; when he finds himself in a moment that might take the music in one direction or another, he's always on top of it. In our gigs, tours and recordings we've had to make similarly spontaneous decisions, and I like his choices. He really wants to make people happy and do the right things."

Both Kireyev and Javors have equally gracious things to say about Harrell, Williams and Strickland (as well as Boris Kozlov, bassist on Rhyme and Reason), but the glory of good vibes is most appreciated by listeners when they are manifest, as they are here, in the sounds.

From the start of "April," Oleg's composition, Keith unfurls his characteristic deft touch, and E.J. his ability (in Keith's words) "to kick hard and be creative without overplaying and filling up all the spaces." Tom Harrell's first solo is a model of seemingly easy, graceful flight. When Oleg embarks on his tenor solo, does he quote Sonny Rollins' "St. Thomas" before expanding on own sunny theme? When Keith returns to the track's front and center, Ben Williams is close at hand as is Strickland, adding model support.

The balladic "Inwardly," which Keith wrote for Oleg with this album in mind—as he did the "The Meeting" itself—unfolds reflectively from Ben Williams' spot-lit statement. Says composer Javors: "I was thinking about the qualities of looking outwardly versus introspection. Through aging, I've come to terms with the fact that it's easier to look out than in, although 'in' might be more constructive." The subtle temper of this rendition is sustained throughout an arc that includes ensemble passages and the two horns in unusual duet.

"The Meeting" may be Keith's gregarious reverse on "Inwardly," its loping beat and the distinct voicing of trumpet and sax representing the group's camaraderie. "Estate," the samba by Bruno Martino which was brought to the jazz world by Joao Gilberto, here is a feature for the trio of Keith, Ben and E.J. It dips into the wistfulness Brazilians call "saudade."

At the other end of the exoticism spectrum, Kireyev starts "Khoomi/Caravan" with a snatch of Tuvan throat-singing, probably a first for the much-recorded theme by Juan Tizol which Duke Ellington so indelibly cast. "There is some connection between Eastern and Asian music in 'Caravan,'" Oleg says, "and that is my element." He and Javors often play this as an encore, encouraging audience call-and-response.

"Body and Soul" has become, like "Caravan," one of jazz's fundamental works. Kireyev lays out the long, beautiful line with reverence, though he experesses that over a surprisingly complementary backbeat. "In my view, 'Body and Soul' is the quintessence of our lives' vibrating between major and minor feelings," the saxophonist says. "It's one of my favorite pieces, immeasurable, always revealing new facets." The Meeting concludes with Kireyev's "Fresh Blues," a hard-bop foray for the quintet, full of intriguing detail, pulsing with life.

Keith Javors, born in 1971, mentions "I grew up at the end of the Cold War, and I was always scared to death of Russia, what I was told that nation was capable of, what was said of who they are as a people." His exposure to the reality of the country, enabled by his enduring friendship with Oleg Kireyev, has of course, turned those ill-informed concerns around. "We did this whole album in just one session, with one rehearsal the night before," Keith says. "The feeling for all five of us in the studio was buoyant, upbeat." Yes, it must have been so—it's audible. Which is rhyme and reason enough to heed The Meeting.

Liner Notes copyright © 2024 Howard Mandel.

The Meeting can be purchased here.

Howard Mandel Contact Howard Mandel at All About Jazz.
Howard is a Chicago-born writer, editor, author, arts reporter for National Public Radio, consultant and videographer. Visit Howard at howardmandel.com.

Track Listing

April; Inwardly; Estate; The Meeting; Caravan; Body and Soul; Fresh Blues; April (alternate take); Fresh Blues (alternate take).


Oleg Kireyev
saxophone, tenor
Tom Harrell
Ben Williams
bass, electric

Album information

Title: The Meeting | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Inarhyme Records, LLC

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