Peter Vacher,
June 2011

Saxophonist Butman’s big band CD is subtitled Plays The Music of Nickolay Levinovsky – Special Guest Wynton Marsalis but that’s just about all I can tell you. The sleeve utilizes the Cyrillic alphabet throughout and my Russian not being up too much, your guess about personnel or the reason for Wynton’s involvement is as  good as mine although Igor has worked with Wynton on his home turf in New York. The Grove dictionary tells me that Butman, born in 1961, attended Berklee and lived in New York after leaving the Boston college touring with Lionel Hampton and Eddie Gomez’s trio, until he returned to Moscow to live in 1996 where ne continues to lead this big band and is festival organizer. It also advices that Levinovsky is a pianist and composer (born 1944) who has led his own bands for many years.

Happily, the tracks are identified with their English titles so that’s a relief. “Russian Passion” moves well, with Butman, an accomplished player with a penchant for the Hank Mobley style, soloing at length. The ensembles are first-rate, bass and drums doing their stuff in convincing fashion, Marsalis soloing with genuine eloquence. “That’s All” is a pretty ballad, flute-led, with a fine alto soloist; the writing balanced and cleverly controlled, all this placing Butman’s orchestra as the equal of any similarly-inclined big bands in either London or New York. Nothing too radical, just accomplished, often tricky writing, the execution and swing dynamics spot-on. If contemporary big bands are your thing, put this on your shopping list with impunity, Marsalis solos on only a few of these tracks, his best coming on a spirited version of “A Train”.