JZ Replacement, The Jazz Bar, Edinburgh, Scotland, 20 February 2020

Horizontal sleet pursued us through the outer doors and down the steep stairs to the crimson-lit basement bar, where Russian alto sax maestro Zhenya Strigalev and emerging star, English drummer Jamie Murray, aka JZ Replacement delivered a roasting two-set gig.

During their current tour they are presenting their new album Disrespectful, released on Russian label Rainy Days Records. Despite American bassist Tim Lefebvre, who features on the album, not being present tonight, the distilled down, co-led duo set-up was perfect for this compact venue.

Strigalev is already celebrated for his highly evolved sax technique, his often witty, always individualistic compositional style, and for holding his own amongst the likes of heavy hitters English pianist Liam Noble, American trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire and Argentinian guitarist Federico Dannemann.  Tonight, the saxophonist made the most of Murray’s muscular delivery, openness to wide rhythmic possibilities (including funk, DnB, possibly Karnatakan?) and improvisational acumen.

Tonight, Strigalev channelled the storm outside as he almost literally blew the listeners away, his delivery even more deft and confident than on his last Edinburgh visit. His slightly quirky manner failing to mask an obviously keen mind, he demonstrated a frankly astonishing virtuosity and grasp of multiple musical styles. Moving between what might be described as an almost Jimi Hendrix-style shredding, on his (generally alto) sax, to soothing lyricism, to repetitive, racing, rising sax figures that ultimately, oddly, brought this listener to a place of great stillness.

Remarkable too was the scientific exactitude of this accomplished duo’s playing, no doubt speaking of many hours of hard graft, contrasting with blocks of mutually generous improvisation.

Other than the title track from Strigalev’s 2019 album, The Change, all tonight’s (Strigalev composed) tunes were from the new album, Disrespectful. Whilst everything aired was well received by tonight’s audience, Tubuka and Five Cymbals for Jamie persisted longest in this listener’s recall.

This was a first-rate gig of jazz and jazz- fusion, so more’s the pity that it was not included (as honoured non-Scottish guests, perhaps) in this weekend’s Scottish Jazz Weekend. This might have attracted greater publicity and an audience of a size proportionate to the music’s quality.

However, never mind. Let’s just hope Strigalev’s roving spirit allows him to continue in this particular JZ Replacement configuration for some time. Meanwhile, if they happen to play near you, do yourself a big favour and get down there.

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