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Evgeny Sivtsov: Zoo

Don Phipps By

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On Zoo, composer and pianist Evgeny Sivtsov reimagines and contrasts jazz styles in a clever and skillful manner. Sivtsov sounds like a cross between Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell, or even Lennie Tristano—not just in his technique, but in his attack as well. This makes for piano playing that, depending upon the number, is at times robust or subdued, but always steeped in the jazz tradition. On his six original compositions, he's joined by bassist Dan Chmielinski and drummer Shawn Baltazor. The rhythm section brings its own tradition, especially on the opening number "Zoo"—sounding a lot like the rhythm section of Ornette Coleman's quartet circa late 50s-early 60s, with Chmielinski as Charlie Haden and Baltazor as Billy Higgins/Ed Blackwell.

As a pianist, Sivtsov keep things interesting with deft interplay between the right and left hand. He seems at ease with different jazz styles: bebop, hard bop, blues and even a bit of vaudeville (towards the end of "Happy Hippos"). His number "Post-Wild" covers the most territory. It begins with a late-night romantic intro that could lead to a Joe Williams or Tony Bennett vocal but migrates into confident and joyful playing replete with bluesy triplets as he slips and slides up and down the keys. Baltazor's drumming provides a substantial floor to the tune with a mix of relaxed forcefulness and carefully timed emphasis.

"Dragonflysis" is an upbeat number that gives the rhythm section some room to maneuver. Take Chmielinski's spirited walk on the bass or Baltazor's solo, which dances across the trap set like a dragonfly on a mission. "The Death Of The Last Dragon" is a bluesy lament. The slow waltz rhythm is emphasized in Sivtsov's precise and clean attacks; he stops, stutters, and accelerates with well-placed syncopated runs and riffs, and he uses full left-hand chords while walking his right hand up and down the piano. Meanwhile, Chmielinski's solo has a gravitas that exploits his dark, woody sound.

Unfortunately, Zoo suffers from a muddy mix that muffles much of Chmielinski's work on the album. This flaw is not ruinous, but it cannot be overlooked. That said, the album and Sivtsov's hybrid amalgamation of 50s and 60s jazz styles is an appealing if not perfectly recorded exploration.

Track Listing: Zoo; Happy Hippo; Post-Wild; New Anthill; Dragonflysis; The Death Of The Last Dinosaur.

Personnel: Evgeny Sivtsov: piano; Dan Chmielinski: bass; Shawn Baltazor: drums.

Title: Zoo | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: Rainy Days Records

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