Igor Butman. Magic Land. 4 1/2 stars

Michael Jackson,
February, 2009

The somewhat cheesy cover art and suggestion of kids music шn the track listing, сoupled with my barely nominal familiarity with Igor Butman, put me off this CD when it arrived in the mail, although the blue-chip band heightened curiosity. Turns out I embarrassed myself. Butman is an amazing saxophonist and one of Russia's most celebrated jazz musicians, and this is an impressively virtuosic, yet unforced session.

The material celebrates themes from Russian movies and cartoons, which one might like to learn more about, in addition to the laundry list of Butman's accomplishments that comprise the liner notes. Jack DeJohnette produced the date and is clearly having a ball behind the drums, notably on the burning «Chunga-Changa,» which is stoked mightily by John Patitucci's virile bass. On «Friends Song,» these two replicate one of those fatback hot-gospel grooves DeJohnette specializes in with Keith Jarrett. Butman, like Chris Potter, has protean chops. There's a sense he can play anything with secure pitch, rhythmic ingenuity and that extra gear in reserve, but the sense of joy in his sound wins one over here. Some of the ditty-like tunes will have you whistling them later on; «Summer Song,» which features Butman's cheery soprano, recalls «Surrey With The Fringe On Top,» or maybe Randy Brecker's solo just suggests this.

At the back-end of the CD, the blowing gets more bruising with «Lullaby Of Mommy Bear,» a killer groove metrically diced by Patittucci, threatening to wake the baby. Given a sextet this heavy, the competence of the ensemble is assured. But highlights occur during illustrative passages, such as Chick Corea's brilliant, animated fills during Bud Powell-meets-Buster Keaton jollity of «Water Skis,» on which his bouncing fingers evoke the skier as he bobs atop the wake from a cartoon boat.