Classics for wagging feet – review of Kruglov-Sooäär Quartet

24. April 2013

Playing Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Borodin and Soviet popular songs in an innovative way is a challenge. The Russian-Estonian quartet led by Aleksei Kruglov and Jaak Sooäär took it, achieving brief moments of freedom.

By Rute Barbedo

The audience asks for liberation, dynamism and an improvised web of instruments. The set begins with a military beat and, in five minutes, Kruglov-Sooäär Quartet finds the tune to freedom. Taking into account the experience of the musicians, harmony and expertise are easy targets to reach and that is what may justify the option of playing lyric and classic music from the 19th century in a contemporary way.


Aleksei Kruglov is one of the most prominent saxophone figures of the Moscow jazz scene. On the other side, Jaak Sooäär’s creativity and skills conducted him to head the Jazz Music Department of the Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre. This Russian-Estonian duo leads the quartet completed by Mihkel Mälgand, on the bass, and Tanel Ruben, on the drums.


In Jazzkaar performance, the chosen frame is clear: sequenced solos and a pace switching between high pulsating notes and melancholic tones. There is something that swings from classical to popular and from jazz to rock.  Even poetry takes place in the Theatre NO99 cafe, when Kruglov substitutes his blow by his voice. 


Surprisingly early, the atmosphere of post-jazz enters the room. Sooäär’s fingers skid along the electric strings, in duet with a progressive double bass. It is time for low notes, improvisation and introspection nicely shared with the audience. The quartet should keep on this record, with Borodin and Mussorgsky just figuring as a slight mist on their canvas. But they choose the other way around: maintaining themselves to the standards and alternating from popular revelry to ballads of slow heartbeat. The experience is focused on cadencies of alto and tenor saxophones and on consecutive changes from double bass to bass guitar.


Until the first break (after one hour of concert), the line of enthusiasm reveals a descendent shape. The ensemble seems to realize it and comes back with a boost of improvisation and risky melodies, such as Flight of Bumblebee, the famous composition of Rimsky-Korsakov which pushes any musician into his speed limits. That’s when the audience and the quartet merge again, asking for more. The quartet gives it. Twenty minutes before midnight, the saxophone soars, the electric guitar incessantly jumps between the controls of three pedals, Kruglov gets rid his sax mouthpiece and Sooäär ends the play with a broken string.


During almost two-hour concert, just a few episodes like this one opened a true connection from the stage to the public. Kruglov-Sooäär Quartet followed most of the plan to the letter while jazz was asking for unlined sheets.

Kruglov-Sooäär Quartet performed at the Theatre NO99 on April 23rd 2013.

Kruglov-Sooäär Quartet:
Aleksei Kruglov – saxophone
Jaak Sooäär – electric guitar
Tanel Ruben – drums
Mihkel Mälgand – bass