In a restless jazz scene constantly searching for new hybrids and directions, Russian-born bassist and bandleader Yuriy Galkin’s album stands out for its thorough immersion in the jazz tradition. It’s rare enough for musicians operating in London’s jazz scene have the funds or the time to write for and organise large ensembles (keep an eye on the Jack Davies Big Band for an even more ambitious project). It’s even more unusual to hear writing that so proudly displays its influences, albeit whilst refracting them through a distinctly contemporary prism.
In his sleevenotes, Galkin cites Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, Dave Holland, Joe Henderson and Wayne Shorter as key influences. It’s refreshingly easy to hear how Galkin has been influenced by Holland’s emphasis on groove and rhythmic propulsion, and also by the textures and harmonies of Gil Evans’ work with Davis on the likes of Porgy And Bess, Sketches Of Spain and Miles Ahead. In addition to this, much of the music here is unafraid to swing. With this coupled with Galkin’s confidence in the use of harmony as colour, Nine Of A Kind often seems to hark back further – most notably to the pioneering work of Duke Ellington.
This is not to say that the music sounds dated. What is perhaps most impressive about this concise, well organised material is the way in which it effortlessly melds writing techniques for small and large ensembles. The most tempting trap for writing for larger ensembles is to over-write, but Galkin has a keen ear for varied texture, and frequently uses the ensemble adroitly for both colour and for counter-lines. He is also keen to exploit the added potential for the doubling of melodic lines, a much under-used technique that is highly effective when used judiciously. Galkin writes propulsive backings for solos when required (especially on the driving Terminal X), but also allows the frontline plenty of time to rest. There are a few moments when things start to feel a little cluttered, but these are very much the exceptions.
Galkin allows himself a melodic and improvising feature on the self explanatory ballad Bass Song, but the extent to which he prefers to be a fundamental anchoring part of his own arrangements is striking. His bass lines are often deft and supple. On a piece like Labyrinth, it’s easy to imagine the bass line having been the starting point for the composition – a springboard for further ideas and development. Here, and on Terminal X too, the band sounds as dynamic as a small ensemble playing in a jazz club. Galkin does not allow his broader canvas to inhibit group interaction.
It certainly helps that Galkin has rallied a hugely impressive selection of London jazz talent here. Saxophonist George Crowley, peerlessly groovy drummer Dave Hamblett, pianist John Turville and trumpeter Freddie Gavita are all rising stars of the scene. Perhaps this album will also be of interest to many because it features the wonderfully fluid improvising talents of Richard Turner, the trumpeter, composer and selfless jazz promoter who tragically died unexpectedly last year.
There are perhaps a couple of points where things don’t quite work. The restless shifts between contemporary groove and a swing feel on the opening Evolvent sometimes feel a little forced and unnatural, and there are a small number of points at which there are simply too many ideas on the table. The overriding impression, however, is of Galkin as a confident, assured and skilled writer and arranger. This is certainly a refreshing, intelligent and surprising album – some distance from Galkin’s most recognised work as sideman in the Gwilym Simcock Trio.