Robin Goodie (Whirlwind)

Zhenya Strigalev’s Smiling Organizm

Released February 2, 2015

DownBeat Four-and-a-Half-Star Review




Russian alto saxophonist Zhenya Strigalev returns with his acclaimed fusion-edged six-piece Smiling Organizm and their second album, Robin Goodie, his second release for Whirlwind Recordings. Following their much-praised debut – described as having “all the knife-edge momentum and skilled improvisatory abandon of its leader” by Jazzwise Magazine and “a real sense of a band in the making” by the Financial Times – Strigalev’s band includes Blue Note-signed trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, double bassist Larry Grenadier (known for his work with Brad Mehldau and Pat Metheny), electric bassist Tim Lefebvre (sideman to Wayne Krantz and Michael Wollny), pianist Taylor Eigsti (whose many credits include Joshua Redman and Christian McBride) and high-profile drummer Eric Harland (whose recent work includes being a member of bassist Dave Holland’s band Prism, as well as work with Charles Lloyd and McCoy Tyner).

Smiling Organizm frequently subvert the standard sounds and roles of soloist and rhythm section, with Lefebvre’s subtle electronic effects and wiry guitar-like sounds layered between Grenadier’s emphatic swing, Eigsti’s lush yet angular harmonies and finely poised solos from Akinmusire and Strigalev. Harland meanwhile deftly maps out the rhythmic terrain, cleverly morphing simple grooves into multi-layered percussive landscapes. Robin Goodie was co-produced by Strigalev and Harland and is a powerful mix of the saxophonist’s many musical loves, the heart of which is high-octane, hard-swinging post bop. This is an ensemble work that showcases Strigalev’s razor-sharp instincts as composer and arranger, as well as the depth of his knowledge of a wide range of musical styles, from free improv to funky fusion, out-and-out swing and extended harmonically rich melodies.

St Petersburg-born Strigalev – who is known for his virtuosic alto sax work on both the London and New York jazz scenes – led the first US/European incarnation of the band on a sold-out tour across Europe, performing at prestigious venues such as Ronnie Scott’s in London; Bimhuis in Amsterdam; A-Trane in Berlin; Porgy & Bess in Vienna and the Sunset in Paris among many others. On these dates the band featured a revolving cast of world-class musicians such as pianist Liam Noble, bassists including ex-Miles Davis sideman Foley, Dany Noel, ex-Zawinul firebrand Linley Marthe, Michael Janisch and Matt Penman, leading drummers Jochen Rueckert and Gregory Hutchinson and trumpeter Alex Sipiagin.

If Smiling Organizm’s debut album introduced the world to Strigalev’s highly personal musical vision, then Robin Goodie finds the band stepping up a gear, increasingly comfortable as a unit, growing to become more than the sum of its considerably talented parts. Matching quirky humor with serious musical intent, delicate melodic hooks with heavyweight rhythmic muscle, this is a band and an album that leaves a vivid impression.

Here’s what Zhenya has to say about his new record:
“The album Robin Goodie is in some way dedicated to England and my time here. I haven’t read the adventures of Robin Hood, but I’ve seen the film! There’s a lot of nature (I love nature), humour, heroism, strong personalities, love, rebelliousness and of course some stupidity… ‘Robin Goodie’ is a mixture of Robin Hood and Boogie Woogie. I thought of the name (which is also the name of one of the tunes). The name came up on its own when I finished composing the tune and wanted to call it something random. However not all of the names of my tunes are random. Many of them are chosen based on the combination of letters or words, their sound reflecting the feeling of the tune. Sometimes I arrive at the name of the tune, letter by letter, in the same I compose the tune, note by note…

The sketches/outlines of several tunes from this album were written while I was practicing in the abandoned house next to the river where I was camping with my father in Russia… Lots of forest, nature and no people. The picture on the album cover was taken there. This album is actually my first where double bass and bass guitar are playing together. The main idea behind that was to combine straight ahead jazz with groove/fusion beats. Take the best of both (for me) and put them together. Thanks to the amazing musicians who made it possible for me to do that.”

Track Listing:

1. KUKU (Zhenya Strigalev) 09:25

2. Horizontal Appreciation (Zhenya Strigalev) 06:18

3. Sharp Night (Zhenya Strigalev) 06:38

4. Pinch (Zhenya Strigalev) 05:13

5. Unlimited Source of Pleasure (Zhenya Strigalev) 07:48

6. Stake (Zhenya Strigalev) 04:22

7. Robin Goodie (Zhenya Strigalev) 08:11

8. Lorton (Zhenya Strigalev) 06:37

9. Personal Opinion (Zhenya Strigalev) 06:11

10. Urgent Ballad (Zhenya Strigalev) 05:48

11. Renduta (Zhenya Strigalev) 06:27


Zhenya Strigalev: alto saxophone

Ambrose Akinmusire: trumpet

Taylor Eigsti: piano

Tim Lefebvre: electric bass

Larry Grenadier: double bass

Eric Harland: drums

Recorded at Tedesco Studios
Engineer: Tom Tedesco
Produced by Zhenya Strigalev & Eric Harland
Mixed by Alex Bonney
Mastered by Peter Beckman
Executive Producer: Michael Janisch


Alto saxophonist/composer Zhenya Strigalev’s second album with this sextet is a truly fun postbop romp. It’s clear from this recording that the Russian musician knows how to create an ease and pleasant nature in those around him, inspiring everyone to be their very best. What is this album’s secret? Why is every one of its nine songs so much fun to listen to? Perhaps it’s in bassist Tim Lefebvre, always a secret weapon when one really wants to enjoy jazz music. Perhaps it’s drummer Eric Harland, who can rattle and hum with the rest of them, but, like Lefebvre, understands the importance of enjoying music first. Perhaps it’s also Larry Grenadier on double bass, who serves the groove just as much as the jam. Taylor Eigsti brings his pleasant brilliance to the table as expected, shining brightly and with timely precision. This is the most accessible, most direct Ambrose Akinmusire may have ever played. These compatriots bring out a different light in him that one may hope would linger more. At the root of it all is Strigalev, whose compositions are so strong that they live up to the talents of the musical titans who join him on this CD. These jams are loose and free, but never veer too far of in a path of onanism. They sound as if they were composed effortlessly, inspired more than written, and they’re played similarly, with a sense of freedom and imagination. This could be the kind of jazz album that has something for everyone, not out of some sense of catering to the crowd, but because the mood it creates is so universally appealing. That mood, even more than the compositions, is paragon in Robin Goodie. Maybe that’s the whole secret to it all.

Anthony Dean-Harris (DownBeat)