Jazz in the Ural tradition

Oleg Kireyev, born in Bashkiria (aka Bashkortostan, more on which follows), is a dynamite soprano and tenor saxophonist who smiles broadly when he asks audiences to chime in with Mongolian throat-singing and quick-tonguing techniques. In New York City, a small group of listeners at Symphony Space complied, giving Kireyev’s Feng Shui Theatre quartet, making its Stateside debut, a sweet welcome.

There’s little need of further evidence that the impulse to play music with dynamic rhythms, improvisational freedoms and individual originality is a world-wide phenomenon — but it’s fun to hear accomplished musicians from afar in New York (or anywhere). Kireyev is a young-looking 45 year old whose combination of Moldavian and Asian leitmotifs with electric guitar, electric bass, rockin’ drums and percussion by Senegalese Ndiaga Sambe is popular in Moscow (where he runs his own jazz club), Poland and the UK, among other places his Feng Shui Jazz Theatre has toured. He is credited as being the first musician in Russia to popularize a trans-ethnic “World Music” style, as he did in 1985 with the ensemble Orlan. Ten years later he won a scholarship to study with American alto saxophonist Bud Shank, developing such confidence and facility that he looks ahead, not back.

Kireyev’s sound does not seem completely unprecedented — Mandala, his 2008 release on the NYC-based Jazzheads label, has a New Agey-fusion feel that harkens back to the ’70s, with modal melodies and liberal use of digital delay. Bassist Victor Matoukhin (from Ukraine) is in thrall to Jaco Pastorius, while guitarist Valery Panfilov (from Moldova) employs sound processing devices for huge chords a la Jaco’s one-time roommate Pat Metheny, though he comps like he came up in grungier garage bands and has some stunning surprises in hand, solo-wise. Drummer Ildar Nafigov (from Tatarstan) pushed the backbeat. What’s cool (to me, at least) about the result is how unabashed the band is in swinging genuinely hard on chestnut exotica like Puerto Rican-born Ellington trombonist Juan Tizol‘s “Caravan,” which Kireyev turned to as an encore, and seems born to blow, dervish-like. 
Having trouble locating Bashkiria? It’s in the Ural mountains, a southwestern region of what used to be the Soviet Union on the border of Europe and Asia, heavily forested, oil and mineral-rich, populated mostly by Turkic Bashkirs, Tatars and Muslims. Kireyev speaks fluent English, and intends to bring his band back to the U.S. in about six months. Why? As he said in an Upper West Side Cuban-Chinese restaurant after the set, he doesn’t care for President Bush or our other governmental representatives, but “people are nice everywhere,” so why not?

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  1. says

    So, Oleg did it. Good to hear that. When you — hopefully — finally make it to Moscow, we have to visit his club, it’s quite good.

  2. Jim Garrity says

    As an agent and friend I have traveled with Oleg many times. Of course I love his exotic and romantic interpretations of past and contemporary jazz standards. It is not so much his originality in putting his inimitable signature on the sax and energizing his unique style in re-playing the old favorites. Its his true love of music that counts. I once put a Supremes CD on in the car being prepared for a counter. Instead I got ‘You can play it again, if it stops you from going to sleep’. Of course Motown music breathes sax as the tamla beats rhythm. Oleg cares that most people enjoy melody over technique because it reaches Soul. Above all it is in live concert that his talent truly comes alive. He has the ability to communicate joy to his audience by infusing his musicians into a singularity of oneness with all.