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Music Review: Oleg Kireyev – Mandala

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I try a lot of new music out at work. Sometimes it’s distracting, sometimes it’s boring and then there’s stuff like Oleg Kireyev's Mandala. It makes you wish you were sitting at home with a wall full of speakers and a growler of craft beer and nothing else to do. It’s a canorous album that grooves the day along.

Jazz fans may very well be quite aware of Kireyev's contribution to the world of jazz. For others, here’s a little bit of info on him. He was born in Bashkiria, a republic of Russia in the southern Urals. He began playing at a very young age. He earned a scholarship and studied in the US with Bud Shanks, himself a lauded saxophonist. Kireyev was leader of the Russian jazz fusion group Orlan and he likes to infuse Asian melodies and African rhythms into his swinging sound. He's released at least ten other CDs.

His opinion of the nature of jazz is stated on his official website. For Kireyev, jazz is “massive swing, total attention to each other, awareness of the listeners and a sense of humor.” These elements are on display on this five-track jazz experience.

It opens with the title track “Mandala,” an energetic, bustling song full of the “massive swing” that Kireyev appreciates. It starts with a fabulous drum/guitar combo that is worthy of intellectual rock, ala Rush, but the sax is center stage here and it shines brightly. The CD is all about balance, it seems, and so it ends with “East” which contains the same sax progressions and swing as “Mandala.” The last track has a harder guitar sound and is without the gutturals in the first track. It’s a little more guitar heavy. It also contains elements of all the other tracks. It’s a perfect summary and conclusion to the whole record.

The second track, “Ai ya Haiya” (or “Intro,” as the name is given on the website), brings the tempo down. It’s a beautiful track, slow and tender, ripe with feeling. Interestingly, it seems that some of the same notes from “Mandala” are included here, only much more subdued. “Zhok” most clearly shows the Oriental influence. It’s mystical and undulating and eminently romantic.

The band, the music, simply gels – that “total attention to each other” shines through. They each understand where the other is going and the direction of the song as well. The sense of humor that Kireyev spoke of manifests itself in the light-hearted feel of each track. Mandala is a masterfully balanced recording – clean, bright, and ingenuous. It leaves you feeling triumphant.

And if you listen to it at work, you can imagine yourself on some kind of magical Oriental adventure instead of sitting at a desk.  Plus, you'll love the odd looks you receive from co-workers as they hear the saxophone wafting from your speakers. 

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