Russian-born American pianist Misha Tsiganov says he wasn’t, on his latest album, intending to make the most difficult arrangements ever. He’s too modest to admit that by “difficult” he means “original” and it doesn’t indicate either that Misha’s Wishes, conceived as a lockdown exercise in the spring and summer of 2020, is any less entertaining and interesting for being conceived in isolation. Nor do reflective tendencies encouraged by austerity totally preclude, well, complexity.
Compare, for example, his version of Gershwin’s Strike Up The Band for the spirited quintet assembled from musicians he knows, trusts and respects with Are You With Me, a free-flowing threnody for the wife with whom he was breaking up. The first is a masterful tour de force. Re-blended at the start and end, the tune pops up in snatches as reminders of the place from which it so inventively decamps. It’s taken for a ride first by Alex Sipiagin on trumpet and Tsiganov on acoustic. Then tenor saxophonist Seamus Blake, multi-timing against riff-enforced meters of the refrain’s first phrase with Tsiganov on keyboard, guides the tune home. Are You With Me finds Sipiagin (flugelhorn) and Blake first in choral mode then as fastidious soloists with the leader, their procession tastefully shepherded by Donald Edwards’s drums and Boris Kozlov’s bass.
Difficulties faced by Russian emigré musicians who’ve headed west are not hard to imagine. The experiences of Tsiganov, Kozlov and Sipiagin in having done so are encapsulated in the title track, a poignant yet positive Tsiganov tune (its gorgeous piano intro also a feature of the opening Fire Horse). Sipiagin delivers the theme on flugelhorn urged on by Blake before Kozlov and Tsiganov take over and all come together with Sipiagin still primus inter pares.
The results of cultural assimilation are there in the Miles Davis-influenced There Was A Birch Tree In The Field, So What; the nostalgic piano solo Lost In Her Eyes; and everywhere else in the productive meeting of minds comfortable with arrangements of integrity and style, not least the harmonically reconstructed – thus complex – version of Bill Evans’s Comrade Conrad.
Fire Horse; Strike Up The Band; Misha’s Wishes; There Was A Birch Tree In The Field, So What; Lost In Her Eyes; Just A Scale; Give Me Five; Hope And Despair; Comrade Conrad; Are You With Me (65.25)
Tsiganov (p, kyb); Alex Sipiagin (t, flh); Seamus Blake (ts); Boris Kozlov (b); Donald Edwards (d). New York, 9 September 2021.
Criss Cross Jazz Criss 1409