Oleg Kireyev – Mandala (2008)

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by Pico

So far here we’ve covered a fairly wide variety of music styles, but still repped for only a handful of countries. Today, though, we’re going to add a few more countries to our slowly-burgeoning list of nations from which the talented musicians we cover come from. Most of these are from the vast, multiculturally rich resource that is the former Soviet Union.

Oleg Kireyev is a soprano and tenor saxman who hails from the autonomous republic of Bashkiria within the Russian Federation, located at the southern end of the Ural Mountains where Europe and Asia meet. Classically trained as a youngster, Kireyev took a strong liking to jazz and improvisation early on, and eventually won the opportunity to study under jazz original Bud Shank. Kireyev became an original himself by melding together Moldavian, African and Asian harmonies in with rock and jazz, and brewing this savory soup in a contemporary pot.

Kireyev has successfully toured Europe, building up a nice audience there, and in 2000 recorded an album, Love Letters, which was a hit in the UK. Four years later, Kireyev recorded the five tracks with his Feng Shui Jazz Project band that became the album Mandala and released on American shores last year.

The Feng Shui Jazz Project, as I hinted in the beginning, come mostly from other parts of what used to be the USSR, too: guitarist Valery Panfilov is from Moldova, electric bassist Victor Maiukhin and keyboardist Valery Belikov come from Ukraine, drummer Ildar Nafigov hails from Tatarstan and the percussionist Njaga Sambe is the odd non-Soviet from Senegal in Africa.

The album has a killer lead-off track in the title song “Mandala.” It begins with Panfilov’s nasty funk-rock guitar riff that settles in with a bass/drum groove, and then some exotic Moldovian(?) chord progression followed by this growling, death metal chant done in a indecipherable language, and then an eruption of flavors from the Middle East, Asia and Africa erupt all at one on top of good ol’ American funk-jazz. And through it all, that groove keeps going. When it comes to world fusion Kireyev intends to put the whole world at the doorstep of your ears.

“Mandala” is such an irresistible tune that I started out this piece as merely a One Track Mind on that cut, but the rest of the album has its own charms worth mentioning, too “Ai ya Haiya” harkens middle-period Weather Report or Santana’s “Aquamarine” with its floating melody and Matoukhin’s highly lyrical bass, while Kireyev’s soprano sax plays Wayne Shorter’s role. “Zhok” (see video of live performance of song below) sports a very attractive Central Asian folk melody and rhythms effectively adapted to contemporary fusion. Kireyev, again on soprano sax, plays with a sonic motifs that recalls Jan Garbarek a bit, but infused with his own ethnic roots. Panfilov plays on his electric guitar something like a cross between an Indian sitar and Spanish flamenco; it’s very unique and a gas to listen to.

“Lullaby” is a dreamy mood piece, featuring a soul-drenched analog-style synth solo by Belikov, before building up into tough funk-groove that Kireyev dubs several of his tenor saxes on top of. “East” is a elongated, remixed version of “Mandala,” an encore of sorts. I don’t think anyone would mind hearing that one again.

The only real complaint I have for this CD is that with a 37 minute running time, it’s nearly down to EP-length. I might not have minded that so much it the music sucked, but it surely doesn’t, so I would have liked to have heard some more of what Kireyev is puttin’ down.

Distributed here in the states by the Jazzheads imprint, Mandala is world fusion that is vibrant, diverse and a hell of a lot of fun. World fusion has been with us for several decades, now, but Kireyev’s music only goes to show that there’s remains a lot left unexplored with this music form, and makes it easy for anyone digest while giving listeners a lot to chew on. Those are the things that must have made his music popular in Europe and Russia; I think America could use a little of Kireyev’s music, too.

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron

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