Review: Zhenya Strigalev, Ronnie Scott's

St Petersburg native and alto saxophonist Zhenya Strigalev brought a host of American stars to Soho to help launch his new album on the Whirlwind label

Zhenya Strigalev’s Smiling Organizm is certainly a fusion outfit - not just in its lineup but in the array of genres the compositions incorporate. However, while the tunes were agreeable they might not have stood out so well without a few of the heavyweight players used to deliver them. The St Petersburg-born alto player had hired a host of international stars for the Ronnie’s evening on 18th February to launch his new Whirlwind album, Robin Goodie. Eric Harland (drums), Linley Marthe (electric bass), Alex Sipiagin (trumpet) and Matt Penman (double bass) were joined on piano by world-class local hero Liam Noble.

The second tune, The Snail, which saw the introduction of Linley Marthe (ex Zawinul Syndicate) on electric bass was possibly the real beginning of the show. Marthe's filthy, hip and driving fills on the introductory groove kick-started the gig - something the 60s-style, Miles-esque tune that preceded it did not quite accomplish. Permandent in the second set also stood out, not for the strange poetry from the leader but thanks to the fantastic Marthe and Harland bass and drum feature which quite possibly outshone the composition.

Matt Penman and Alex Sipiagin, both veterans of the New York jazz scene, delivered masterful performances in their own right yet they did not come across as being so essential to the group sound as Strigalev, Noble, Marthe and Harland and at several times during the concert were sidelined. Although the gig reflected the two-bass instrumental lineup of the Robin Goodie album, the record has Ambrose Akinmusire (t), Larry Grenadier (b) and Tim Lefebvre (elb). Harland seems key though, appearing as drummer and co-producer of the album.

In a contemporary scene where Europe and America often seem to be artificially separated (frequently by critics after a new angle), it was heartening to see Strigalev's transatlantic project bringing together London and New York based virtuosos. Strigalev is clearly a fearless man both personally and musically, with a lot of creativity, artistic drive and ambition. We left Ronnie Scott’s feeling musically stimulated and inspired.

Evan Clegg & Henry Gilbert

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