Everyone who still clings to the notion that jazz is a “distinctly American art form” isn’t really paying attention to the contemporary jazz scene. So-called Distinctly American jazz isn’t getting the nods and bows it once did simply because there’s a new game in town, one that involves passing through the world and coming out on the other end with new ideas about jazz, and what it can be. Igor Kogan is a bassist-composer-bandleader who has taken a triumvirate of rich cultures from Russia, Israel and New York City and turned it into a lively and sophisticated blend of be-bop.
In a Big City is the debut album for Igor Kogan. It’s simply described in the liner notes as nine original compositions for jazz quintet, which suggests nothing out of the ordinary. Extra points are handed out for including Grammy-nominated vocalist Tierney Sutton on “Big City,” the final track–I’ve reviewed her albums before and she’s an intriguing talent in a quintessentially LA way. For me, this album is mostly about New York City, the sounds of jazz filling legendary back alleys and creating sound waves that echo across the fire escapes. I can hear the childhood in Russia, the teen years in Israel and even the slight nod toward Kogan’s new home, Los Angeles, which you can hear in Marco Apicella’s piano. They’re there, adding color and texture.
In a Big City is about NYC, though. The pace, the vibrant sights and sounds, the expertise–the illustrations within the compositions are clear. That last part, the expertise, is essential to the big city feel, and the quintet is up to the relatively tight and structured arrangements. Igor Kogan is certainly disciplined in his bassist-as-leader role, laying down a lot of thick, juicy and ripe notes from below while still guiding the others–which also include sax player Jeremy Lappitt, horn player Joshua Aguiar and drummer Matthew Baker. Baker also shines by knowing the other half of the rhythm section is calling the shots. He’s in there, tight, all over Kogan’s bass.
Sure, Igor Kogan has put out one of those assured debuts that sounds more like his tenth album than his first. But it’s also important to know Kogan the Man, and what he’s about. In this case, Kogan is all about the community. His recent release, Revival–World Home Jazz Orchestra, supports the Frontline Responders Fund, a campaign designed to get PPE to everyone in the trenches battling Covid-19. I’ve heard many people warn about the effect of Covid in the jazz world, and how most jazz musicians earn their money by playing in small clubs. In a time when so many musicians are clinging on, trying to survive, it’s wonderful to see someone like Igor Kogan get out there and make things better. Kudos.