by John Kenchelian
The new album, featuring music by Nick Levinovsky(who also conducts the band) from Russian saxophonist Igor Butman’s Big Band is interestingly titled: Moscow @ 3 AM. It starts out with a dark vamp on the first song, “Russian Passion,” which makes one think of a late night in Moscow. However, once it gets going this song really grooves, featuring at different times, the trombone, trumpet, and sax sections. Maybe this was just the fact that I was playing it on iTunes, but one can barely hear the piano when the entire band is playing, and as a piano player, that disturbs me. Butman doesn’t wait to bring out the biggest star on this album, Wynton Marsalis, featuring him with a solo on the very first tune. Marsalis provides his usual clean, controlled playing, but this is one of the few times in recent years I’ve heard him playing what most people would consider modern jazz, and he is not at all out of place on this track. The flute playing of Oleg Grymov, Constantin Safyanov, and Alexander Dovgopoly is a highlight of the second track, “That’s All,” a slow, thoughtful composition. Safyanov also takes an alto sax solo on the tune. One would have expected Marsalis to appear on the tune whose title relates it to New Orleans. In reality, “Dirty Dozen” is a mellow, rhythmically interesting tune that features running lines from the sax section over top of a rhythm section vamp. Perhaps what I expected “Dirty Dozen” to sound like is the start of the next track, “Nevalyashki,” which has a dissonant funk intro, but melds into a medium swing, intermingled with moments that have a shuffle feel. This song features Eduard Zizak on drums with a solo that starts out in swing before bringing the band back in with a shuffle feel, and then transitioning to the funk feel from the intro. The band’s version of Billy Strayhorn’s classic “Take the ‘A’ Train” starts with a sparse, but swinging solo from Anton Baronin on piano, and has a flute/trumpet soli before the trombones bring in the rhythmically-altered melody. Special guest Wynton Marsalis returns to his comfort zone with an old-school trumpet solo on the tune made famous by Duke Ellington. While nothing is super special about this arrangement of the standard, it does fit the qualifications for a swingin’ version. “The Bells Rung in Novgorod” shares nothing of the bland qualities of the Soviet era, but was distinctly influenced by the compositions of the great bassist, Charles Mingus and sounds similar to Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints”. Dmitry Mospan channels his inner Coltrane on a soprano sax solo that makes this tune come alive. The latin-flavored “We’ll Be Back” provides a nice interlude in the mix of some great modern jazz out of the Shorter, Hancock, Hubbard school, and also features Marsalis for the final time. The latin trend continues with the title track “Moscow @ 3 AM,” which sounds nothing like what Moscow would be like at 3 AM, but is otherwise a delightful song. To close the album, a sarcastic trumpet fanfare begins “Little Finale”. Overall, this album is nothing spectacular, but showcases the clear talent of Nick Levinovsky, while putting the spotlight on some seriously talented Russian jazz musicians. Butman steps back well, to allow Marsalis, and others, specifically the sax section of his band, to shine.