Jazz Animals
Release Date: September 27, 2019 
Label: Rainy Days Records

On Jazz Animals, the 19-year-old prodigy from Moscow showcases his huge sound, no-limits chops and keen improvisational logic. Jazz Animals presents five tunes penned by Kashitsyn, and a tune apiece by acclaimed tenor saxophonist Chad Lefkowitz-Brown and fellow Russian musician Nikita Mochalin, who also contributes four dynamic arrangements. 

Jazz Animals is a multicultural and worldly exploration that deftly furthers the mission of St. Petersburg-based music label Rainy Days Records. Rainy Days is dedicated to introducing Russian jazz musicians to the international jazz arena. Saxophonist Kashitsyn, who is currently based in New York City, is a worthy figure to help usher in this musical movement. Kashitsyn’s front line is made up of American rising stars Lefkowitz-Brown and trumpeter Josh Evans (most widely known for his inspired playing in Christian McBride’s New Jawn Quartet). Dutch vocalist Hiske Oosterwijk lends her voice to two tunes and contributes a poetic lyric to the album’s finale. Four Russian musicians join including guitarist Alexey Polubabkin, dubbed by Kashitsyn as “the Russian John Scofield, album producer and drummer Sasha Mashin, bassist Makar Novikov, and veteran pianist-keyboardist Alexey Podymkin, a frequent bandstand presence when star American soloists tour Russia.

As Ted Panken explains in his liner notes, Podymkin was accompanying veteran alto saxophone virtuoso Vincent Herring at the prominent Moscow club Esse in early 2017 when Herring — who had given Kashitsyn several Skype lessons — invited the youngster to play on two selections. After the gig, Herring encouraged Kashitsyn to enroll Manhattan School of Music, where Herring teaches. The young saxophonist took his advice and enrolled there as a freshman during the 2017-18 academic year.

A year later, one academic term at MSM under his belt, Kashitsyn entered — and earned first prize in —  the first International Festival Competition of Saxophonists in Ekaterinburg, Russia. Around this time, he played some of his songs in a band led by a French alto saxophonist then gigging in Russia with Mashin on drums. Mashin wrote Kashitsyn a complimentary note, and they stayed in touch. Meanwhile, Kashitsyn was planning a tour with Lefkowitz-Brown, who had taught him privately in New York. Encouraged by Mashin, Kashitsyn decided to record Jazz Animals.                                                                          

Highlights on Jazz Animals include Kashitsyn’s “Going To Ekaterinburg”, which was composed on the way to the aforementioned saxophone competition. The tune opens with a staunch bass vamp around which swirl intertwining lines and Mashin’s complex beats, then transitions into a longish form that morphs from Latinish into swing, in the manner of mid-60s Joe Henderson. Leftkowitz-Brown uncorks an intense solo; after Podymkin solos with percussive clusters, Kashitsyn explores the melody in the alto’s lower ranges with a full-bodied tone.

Kashitsyn’s waltz-like “Confession” was the first tune he wrote for his combo at MSM. Peaceful and clear, it features a long, thematically cogent solo by Evans and an alto solo on which Kashitsyn swoops and flies. He finally takes the first solo on another highlight, Mochalin’s “Song For Chad,” a one-chord refrain on which Kashitsyn and Lefkowitz-Brown build tremendous momentum, traversing the keys with informed, intuitive comping from Podymkin.

 On “Our Song,” after a bluesy piano opening, Kashitsyn gets a richly textured, vocalized EWI-ish effect on an electronically augmented solo and on Lefkowitz-Brown’s chill “Time To Forget,” he offers a lyric invention, accompanied by Mashin’s nuanced cymbal sound-painting. Both tunes incorporate Oosterwijk’s voice-as-instrument as an added layer.

The phrase ‘Jazz Animals’ is a term of endearment. Coined by Mashin, one who is a ‘jazz animal’ is someone who is highly respected and very well liked. In calling his debut Jazz Animals, Kashitsyn strives to thank his fellow musicians and mentors that brought him to this point. “I am grateful for this experience,” says Kashitsyn, “and I just want to introduce these great musicians to the world.”

"[Makar's] open-minded philosophy, as well as his nascent compositional abilities, help deliver an entertaining present even as they bode well for the future."  Read the full review here.

"One of 2019's most promising debuts, Jazz Animals signals the riches to be found in the Russian jazz scene, not to mention the promise inherent in the international partnerships that can only bode well for the future of the music." Read full review here

"Flashing back to just 30 years ago, a blissful Russian-American collaboration would have been difficult to imagine. But the partnership, unified within the parameters of the jazz language, finds Kashitsyn’s admirable international collective offering up an inspired set." Read full review here

"The talent and energy of this coterie is obvious and clearly these youthful musicians will continue to grow and blossom with time. This debut effort by Makar Kashitsyn displays his propitious talents."  Read the full review here.

"Only 19 and this jazz sax man can pull off high spirited improv with best of them."  Read the full review here.

"The song is ravishingly swinging with hints of Latin jazz ornamentation and features stellar performances by all, most notably a murderous first solo by Lefkowitz-Brown." Read the full track premiere and listen to “Going To Ekateringburg” here

"The creativity of the composer's decisions and the level of performing skills of the young alto saxophonist in this debut work speak for themselves. And he is only nineteen years old!" Read the full Russian review here

"These are unique artistic collaborations that evoke full creative freedom. This release, as just one example, is thoroughly exciting and animated. We look forward to hearing more from the Rainy Days label." Review here

"Bold and confident." Review here

"We hear on the album a powerful, vibrant ensemble in which the 19-year-old leader's alto saxophone sounds along with the tenor and trumpet of his New York colleagues and surprises not only with the technical perfection of performance, but also with deep compositional thinking..." Selected as Jazz.ru's Top Albums of 2019 - read full article here

"Kashitsyn’s voice on sax is remarkable for a young musician and he shows good poise blending with his team. This is a modern jazz set with a lot of energy and a lot of groove courtesy of bassist Makar Novikov."