Rainy Day Records: RAINY019

Zhenya Strigalav: saxophone; Garry Bagdasaryan: drums; Radhika de Saram: bass guitar; Elliot Galvin: keys; Evgeny Ponomarev: keys; Rodion Grishenko: guitar

Recorded 2021 at Dobrolet Stuid, St. Petersburg by Alexander Perfilyev

Having established, from an early, an international reputation as a virtuous violinist, with a string of credits on movie soundtracks, roles the string sections of rock and pop luminaries, and positions in London Contemporary and Chineke! Orchestras, de Saram decided to buy a bass guitar a few years ago.

This album is her debut as a bass player. What this album wonderfully captures is the way musician skilled in one instrument works her way around a very different set of skills, as much as the ways in which a musician fluent in a wide variety of musical languages focuses her genius on the specific challenge of creating groove-led contemporary jazz.

Each tune immediately gets your feet tapping even as it has you scratching your head trying to work out the varied directions in which the piece moves.

The opening tracks ‘Adalar’ and ‘Little Sloth Bear’ work from captivating bass-lines but, just when you thought this was an album that would be driven by bass grooves, the tune ‘Do it now’ offers a post-bop structure where guitar and saxophone double over a complex riff that increases in intensity into a gentle bass line picks up the riff to escort the keys to the fadeout.

This shifts into a piece that is almost of duet of bass and guitar, playing a gentle ballad ‘Old Cane Chair’ (with, for me, distant hints of Cry Me a River in its chords and phrasing over which the guitar improvises.). A change of tempo again on the closing track, ‘Arrack and Lion’, which has a hint of bosa nova but mixed with a variety of styles as is de Saram’s style in her compositions and playing.

While de Saram’s bass playing is a highlight of the set, it is by no means that only rewarding and exciting element. Strigalav’s saxophone playing drives the opener track and easily shifts from hard-bop to mournful ballad across the set.

Familiar from his albums as leader, as well as the many gigs he has had with some of the major players in contemporary jazz (as well as the sparkling release from JZ Replacement a couple of years back), he revels in the space offered by de Saram’s playing and encourages her and the band to ever-more intense peaks of musical expression.

He is joined by the ever impressive Galvin who ignites the key on ‘Litte Sloth Bear’, and a guitarist who is new to me, in Grishenko, but whose work I’ll be looking out for as his contributions to this set are intriguing.