The first time I heard Igor Butman was on Irving Place off 14th Street when Vartan Tonojan (now the proud proprietor of the Denver jazz club, Vartan's) was trying to recreate his Moscow Blue Bird at the Irving Plaza. Many different groups and individuals played that evening. I forgot who Butman played with but I chalked him up as another fusioneer. Was I ever wrong. Little did I realize (or could I have conceived at the time) how much I would value his saxophone artistry, appreciate his parallel skills as ice hockey teammate and grow to feel toward him like a brother.
Actually it was a hockey connection that brought us into contact. Carloss Kossell, the manager of the Blue Moon Cafe on First Avenue in Manhattan (Ron Greschner, former defenseman of the New York Rangers, is a part owner) had skated with Igor and called to ask me to listen to his new CD, Falling Out, on the Impromptu label. I was able to tell Igor how much I enjoyed his recording and invited him to play with Gitler's Gorillas, a team I have led from 1973. He was an instant success on the ice and in the post-game camaraderie. (Gorillas are social animals.) It was at his time that I got a chance to hear him at the Russian Samovar, a restaurant on West 52nd Street where he held forth on Wednesday nights when he was in town. In the company of former bandmates from the renowned Russian group Allegro, Nick Levinovsky and Slava Nazarov, and various American musicians such as drummer Tommy Campbell, he showed the fire and depth of his world-class improvisational talent. Vibist Joe Locke, who has toured with Butman several times in Russia, describes him insightfully with: «Igor has a complete understanding of the tenor saxophone tradition. He also has the heart and soul of Russia, combined with the urban street feeling of America-Trane (John Coltrane) and Sonny (Rollins) but also Stanley Turrentine.»
All of this is reflected in Igor's continuing to perform in both the West and the East, and underlined by the personnel and repertoire of this CD. Locke, who grew up in Rochester, New York, moved to New York City in 1981. In the 80s he and pianist Phil Markowitz teamed up to advantage, the '90s have seen him involved in many Mingus projects: Dynasty, Big Band and Epitaph Orhestra; and individuals such as Eddie Henderson, Ronnie Cuber and Alex Foster. In mid-decade he has emerged as a recording leader with two CDs for the Milestone label.
Pianist Frank Kimbrough is a regular in the late night combo at New York's Blue Note and plays an important role in the New York Composer's Collective which, since its inception in 1992, has presented such ambitious programs as The Herbie Nichols Project, eventually recorded for the Italian company Soul Note.
Essiet Okon Essiet broke in with pianist Abdullah Ibrahim. He is most celebrated as the solid bassist in Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers from 1988-91 but also has impressive credits with such talents as Benny Golson, Bobby Hutcherson, Kenny Barron, Jackie McLean, Bobby Watson and Freddie Hubbard.
Drummer Gene Jackson emerged as a force on the jazz scene as a member of Herbie Hancock's touring group in 1996. He has also recorded with Locke. On Autumn Leaves the drummer is Oleg Butman who has worked with the likes of Richie Cole, John Faddis and Monty Alexander as well as with brother Igor.
The trumpeter on two tracks is another excellent young musician, Alex Sipiagin, often a sitter-in Igor at the Samovar. In recent years he has been featured with the George Gruntz Concert Jazz Band and also is a member of Gil Goldstein's Zebra Coast Orchestra.
From the opening bars of Horace Silver's Nutville you can hear the musical empathy between Butman and Locke and shortly thereafter you realize that everyone is very much on the same page. That is true in any of the many grooves attained between Nutville and the fresh treatment of the warhorse of all warhorses, When the Saints Go Marching In. All notable are Igor's tender and loving Waltz For Oksana, dedicated to his wife; the touching ballad, Turns of Love: where Kimbrough creates the cloud for Butman to float upon; Callahan Tunnel (a Boston reference), a catchy ballad theme with a back beat; and the Ornettish (Coleman, that is) Wrong Thoughts, Locke and Kimbrough sitting while Sipiagin and Butman range freely over the elastic pulse of Essiet and Jackson.
Sipiagin also lends his soaring horn to the grooving bebop blues (fill in title), muted in the ensemble and open for his solo; and is power plus on the updated Saints where Igor makes some Rollins-like moves.
For further colorations there are Vanka-Vstanka, by Vagif Sadyhov, an original as resilient as the dolls from which it draws its title; and the samba, Menina Moco, by Luis Antonio. The evergreen Autumn Leaves (there's a contradiction in terms but I'm talking musically, not seasonally, in this instance) is a perfect fit for Igor's sensibilities. Locke (quoting Stormy Weather) and Kimrough also have inspired solos; Essiet contributes a sensitive solo; and Oleg, who brushes the ensemble to perfection, scores with his sticks in the eight-bar exchanges.
In the beginning of all this beautiful music number 1 in your program is Nostalgie in which our fair-haired saxophonist embodies Joe Locke's culture-mixing allusion I quoted earlier. Gorky Park meets Central Park and the landscape fills your mind and heart.
Butman's marvelous coalescence of soul, sound and technique drew praise from Bill Clinton, one time tenor man, at a state dinner hosted by Boris Yeltsin. I was impressed by this until Clinton, some months later, praised Kenny G. I'll take Igor B! Kenny G. doesn't go in the corners.
Igor Butman (saxophone)
Frank Kimbrough (piano)
Joe Locke (vibraphone)
Essiet Okon Essiet (bass)
Alex Sipiagin (trumpet)
Oleg Butman (drums)
Gene Jackson (drums)