Review: Zhenya Strigalev Group

Zhenya Strigalev. Photo credit: Angus Forbes
Zhenya Strigalev Group
(Charlie Wrights, 13th June 2012. First night of four. Review by Peter Slavid)


It’s always interesting when a group of musicians reconstructs an album in a live environment. And when half the band has been changed, and when the new players have only just got together, then the results can be at first chaotic – if also exciting - but you also know that things are bound to develop, coalesce and grow.

That was the context last night at Charlie Wright’s, where Zhenya Strigalev was on the first of four nights to launch his new CD Smiling Organizm. The CD has already been reviewed here by Chris Parker. I agree completely: it’s a fine CD.

For the live performance, drummer Obed Calvaire replaced Eric Harland; Steve Fishwick replaced Vitaly Golovnev on trumpet, and Michael Janisch took over from Larry Grenardier as one of the two alternate basses. Tim Lefebvre on electric bass and Liam Noble on piano remain from the personnel on the CD.

Obed Calvaire’s drumming in particular seems to make a big difference to the pace. He drives the rhythm section to furious heights, forcing ever more invention and passion from Strigalev in particular. Strigalev’s playing always contains surprises, with weird dissonances and strange rhythms creeping into tunes that often start out as simple melodies. I would have liked a bit more volume from the piano where Liam Noble contributed some engaging solos, but was particularly impressive in the background, twisting and driving and often surprising the soloists. All the other musicians made telling contributions too – but it was Strigalev’s sax playing and slightly eccentric stage persona that was the abiding memory.

I was only able to stay for the first set last night and in that time not all the tunes ended successfully – in one case the band needed three attempts before they got it almost right – but that was half the fun. And in any case I’m not sure this sort of music is ever done “right”.

Tightly organised and orchestrated bands have their place, but this is a band capable of reinventing itself as it goes along. Clearly still work in progress, and well worth a trip on any one of the next three nights.

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