Monday, January 15, 2018

Zhenya Strigalev - Blues for Maggie (WHIRLWIND RECORDINGS March 9, 2018)

Alto saxophonist and composer ​Zhenya Strigalev’s fourth album for Whirlwind Recordings – Blues for Maggie –​ brings together in-demand drummer Eric Harland (Dave Holland, Charles Lloyd, Joshua Redman), Mauritian bass virtuoso Linley Marthe (Joe Zawinul, Mino Cinelu, Richard Galliano) and award-winning Argentinian guitarist Federico Dannemann (Mark Elf, Peter Erskine, Valery Polomarev, Chico Cesar, Shakira). 

A departure from Strigalev's previous albums – recorded live, as well as featuring a guitarist in the line-up – it documents the saxophonist’s recent touring band which included Marthe and Harland, both of whom he introduced to each other and are now the rhythm section of choice for a number of artists including Chris Potter. Zhenya met South American guitarist Federico Dannemann over 14 years ago, during his time at the Royal Academy of Music in London, and they hit it off straight away, both musically and as friends. But after finishing the course, Federico returned to his home of Santiago, Chile. However, he remained the saxophonist’s favorite guitarist, possessing a rich and diverse musical knowledge combined with fluent technique and rhythm – exactly what Zhenya’s music is all about. 

Blues for Maggie was recorded at two well-respected European venues – during the band’s concert at Porgy and Bess in Vienna, Austria and after their gig at Paradox in Tilburg, Netherlands – and consists of seven original compositions. Its title references dedicatee Maggie Black, a well-known figure in London due to her love of jazz music and undying support for its musicians.

Maggie and Zhenya met at the jam at the famous Ronnie Scott’s, back in 2011, after she was blown away by his version of ‘Body and Soul’. Since then, they have become close friends and she has become Zhenya’s ‘Pannonica’ for her support, inspiration and patronage of his musical activities, including tours and albums (without which they wouldn’t have been possible). Black is a true adventurer and shines with a love of life – an inspirational example of how to be mentally strong, generous, how to stay authentic regardless of the situation, how to trust people whilst at the same time being honest. She likes to stay at shows until 3.00am and often goes to concerts and festivals in different countries, even in other continents.

The recording’s ebullient mood is heralded by sprightly reggae tune ‘Not Upset’, Strigalev on soprano also introducing his new creation, the ‘alto box’ (be ready for unorthodox sounds); and ‘Coda’ bookends the album with a different take on this. Soft, melodic yet cheeky ‘Wondering About Swing’ can, says the saxophonist, “be used at a retro dance party for cool daddies and grannies who never get old”, with further dance to warm the soul in quirkily electronic Latin-American groover ‘Happy Professors’. The story goes that Zhenya started playing this at a late set performance at Ronnie’s, and as Monty Alexander was on his way out, he stopped in his tracks to listen. “He liked it… hopefully you will, too”. 

Strigalev and Dannemann shine in bubbling, funky ‘Little Struggle’, with the advice, “There is no struggle! Just enjoy the groove”; and following a brief collaboration with Indian tabla player, Pinky, in a trio with his Academy friend and bassist Pete Cochrane, Strigalev included ‘Pinky’ (composed by Cochrane) in his tours, garnering a great response. At the centrepiece of the album, and fabulously immersive across 20 minutes, is frisky ‘Take Off Socks’ featuring the snappy, trademark Marthe/Harland duo, with Eric soloing over Linley’s synchronized keyboard-and-bass accompaniment to create a whole new tune within Zhenya’s original. 

Describing his ambition for this new release, Strigalev explains: “The goal was to capture our ‘breath’, along with our mistakes (you won’t notice them, I bet), our friendship and joy, our spontaneous musical decisions and interactional mastery, as well as a serious approach to music. All ways we like to express ourselves – responsible, fun… and with a happy ending!”

1. Not Upset
2. Pinky
3. Wondering About Swing
4. Take Off Socks
5. Happy Professors
6. Little Struggle
7. Coda of Not Upset

Federico Dannemann - guitar
Linley Marthe - bass guitar, keyboards
Eric Harland - drums

Recorded on 1st March 2017 at Paradox Jazz Club, Tilburg, Netherlands and 6th March 2017 at Porgy 'n' Bess Jazz Club Vienna
Mixed by Alex Bonney
Mastered by Peter Beckmann
Produced by Zhenya Strigalev
Executive Producer - Michael Janisch