The exceptional Blues for Maggie is the latest album for Whirlwind Recordings from Zhenya Strigalev and it demonstrates a musical elation that belies the title. Together with Argentinian guitarist Federico Dannemann, Mauritian bassist and keyboard player Linley Marthe and American drummer Eric Harland, the Russian-born sax player and composer creates a collection of tracks that together exude joy and cross all sorts of jazz micro-genres.
This live recording – from both Porgy and Bess in Vienna and Paradox in Tilburg – is a truly international collaboration. Each member of this quartet plays with technical skill and the utmost musicality on an extraordinary collection of seven original compositions. Their individual musical background comes together with a subtle mastery.
From the opening of Not Upset, this album combines simplicity with complexity. A reggae feel and Strigalev’s soprano sax begin the simplicity, before the introduction of his alto box and various electronic sounds that interlace the more traditional sounds of bass, guitar and drums. When Coda of Not Upset closes the album, there’s a darker feel to the same melodic line and more electronics that give a freer interpretation. It’s a clever device that gives the album a structure and forbids shuffle.
Pinky – the second track – is a lively composition by Strigalev’s friend and bassist Pete Cochrane which leads comfortably to the melodic Wondering About Swing which similarly dances along, while again adding the electronic sounds that make this more than a nod to the dance grooves of the past.
At the heart of Blues for Maggie is the lengthy Take Off Socks – 20 minutes of experimental exploration of melody. Each musician comes into his own in this track, together creating a piece of work that demonstrates the best of musical exchanges.
The dance feel of the album is emphasised in the idiosyncratic latin beat of Happy Professors. Strigalev’s tone and timing are immaculate and he both sits above and melds with the rhythm section. The groove on Little Struggle is irresistible, with Strigalev’s bop-induced solo tieing in beautifully melodically and rhymically with the rest of this ensemble.
Strigalev deserves his place as one of the big hitters in the UK jazz scene of 2018 and Blues for Maggie is a keeper.