Sasha Mashin ‘Happy Synapse’ 2xLP/CD (Rainy Days) 5/5

‘Happy Synapse’ is the sophomore album from St. Petersburg native and drummer Sasha Mashin, but here with a different group to his bandleader debut ‘Outsidethebox’ (2018), which was also released on Russian based Rainy Days Records. Here, the group consists of Josh Evans on trumpet, Rosario Giuliani on alto saxophone, Dmitry Mospan on tenor saxophone, Benito Gonzalez on piano and Makar Novikov on bass. Featuring eight original pieces with half the album using a quintet configuration, two being trio based and the other two compositions using a quartet and a sextet, which shows a very modern approach to composing and arranging.

The album begins with ‘Flowing’ and its circular piano playing and dynamic structure. This is 100% contemporary bebop with its drum and piano heavy form and impeccable bass timing which sounds like a multitrack recording rather than a live group session. The longest piece at 13’18”, ‘The Hidden Face of Stars’, offers fluidity and melodic backbone even with all the colourful playing from its counterparts, as this piece features the whole ensemble, but Giuliani particularly excels on alto as does Evans on trumpet. The Coltrane-esque ‘The Hidden Voice’ offers choppy piano chords and extended runs as Benito Gonzalez jolts over the uptempo rhythm track with Giuliani again in fine form.

Quartet number ‘Incantation’ uses subtlety but still remains extremely absorbing and is again melodically heavy, but with a title like ‘Incantation’ it does veer into more ‘cosmic’ territory especially in the final half of the arrangement, but it’s possibly my personal favourite cut on the album. ‘Inner News’ returns the album to a more fiery bebop status, featuring large amounts of intricate playing and improvisation, key changes and a very pronounced rhymic centre from the quartet. With ‘Night Melody’, the frantic drum and piano workout and underlining touches of bass highlight the strong trio set up of Mashin, Gonzalez and Makar Novikov, and ‘Sim Card’ returns to a more standard bebop affair and would be a definite crowd-pleasing live number – post lockdown. ‘Sulieman Saud’ is another soaring composition and covers all the bases during its 12-minute long journey which bounds along with energy and sophistication with some excellent unison playing included.

Unknown to this writer, Mashin and his group offer something new but familiar with ‘Happy Synapse’. Obviously influenced by both legacy US jazz musicians and newer contemporary artists from around the community, the album is faultless in its writing, stylisation and execution. Admittedly, the group includes non-Russian musicians in this instance, but bandleader Sasha Mashin offers a voice not commonly heard in modern jazz environments. And as like most people, I’m sure, my knowledge of Russian jazz is almost non-existent, but jazz is universal, transcultural and open, and I for one would love to learn more about music from his part of the world.

Damian Wilkes