Zhenya Strigalev’s Smiling Organizm ‘Robin Goodie’ (Whirlwind) 4/5

zhenya-strigalevReturning with his second album for Whirlwind Recordings, alto saxophonist Zhenya Strigalev has served up one of the year’s most interesting releases to date. According to Strigalev, “Robin Goodie” is dedicated to the Russian’s time spent in England and is loosely based around the adventures of Robin Hood. “I haven’t read the adventures of Robin Hood,” muses Strigalev, “but I’ve seen the film! There’s a lot of nature, humour, heroism, strong personalities, love, rebelliousness and of course some stupidity…” And that could well sum up “Robin Goodie” too. Strigalev’s band of Merry Men (aka Smiling Organizm) do an awesome job of bringing his quirky, slightly eccentric music to life. No b-list actors here, the album features Strigalev on alto sax, Ambrose Akinmusire; trumpet, Taylor Eigsti; piano, Tim LeFebvre; bass guitar, Larry Grenadier; double bass and Eric Harland; drums.

A concept album of sorts, “Robin Goodie” is a highly original blend of straight-ahead jazz, grooves and beats. Rooted in bebop with a very modern twist, Strigalev’s compositions shine brightly. Joyfully imaginative with an edge to them that seems to border on insanity before pulling back from the outer limits to calmly sit down and have a quiet cup of tea; the tunes twist and turn, barely allowing us time to think. The rhythm section nail things down throughout, with the gifted and sought-after double bass of Larry Grenadier, fusing well with the electric bass and subtle electronics of Tim Lefebvre. Eric Harland’s performance here cannot be underestimated as he seamlessly slips from simple grooves into hard swinging, multi layered rich landscapes of sound. Meanwhile, Eigsti’s lush piano harmonies allow for some eclectic and dazzling soloing from both Strigalev on alto and Akinmusire on trumpet.

If the individual tracks show some excellent variation, with wonderful changes of pace and plenty of surprises along the way, then I would have to say that as a whole, the album has a wilful eccentricity to it that genuinely makes me smile. It leaves me wanting more. In Strigalev I think we have a musician that could potentially be writing and performing innovative, exciting jazz for many years to come. UK Vibe will be interviewing Zhenya Strigalev tonight and reviewing his gig at Ronnie Scott’s – Watch this space… we look forward to hearing what he has to say.

Mike Gates