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JAZZ REVIEW : Zoubov and Leviev: Comrades in an Intriguing Key at the Ataman

Once described as the embodiment of American cultural decadents, jazz has gained a strong foothold in the Soviet bloc. Though primarily an imported commodity, those countries have their own developing pools of talent, two of whom teamed in the Russian-American jazz connection at Ataman, a Russian restaurant in Hollywood.

Saxophonist Alexei Zoubov, a Soviet citizen who came to the United States in 1980, and Milcho Leviev, the Bulgarian pianist who has long been a presence on the local jazz scene, provided an enthralling opening set that included selections from the standard jazz repertoire, a Leviev original, and a trio of Russian standards.

It was, of course, the Russian tunes that provided the most interest. Taking extraordinary liberties with the simple folk melodies, Zoubov offered further evidence of music’s universality. With rhythms distinctly jazz, the saxophonist lightened the somber tones of “Dark Night.” On “Brass Band,” he instilled energetic swing in the militaristic tone of the World War II vintage tune.

The best of the three was “Goodby, My Beloved City,” a haunting ballad that had Zoubov playing the soprano saxophone in an intense, shrill manner against Leviev’s slow and expressive style. The contrast was powerful and effective.

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Leviev, whose former tendency for bombast has been replaced with a more economical approach, used his own “Slav Blues” to demonstrate that less is more.

Accompanying Zoubov and Leviev were bassist Bob Harrison and drummer Joe Dougherty. Both did admirable jobs in their support roles, with Harrison soloing capably in several outings.

Zoubov and company will continue indefinitely as the Thursday night jazz offering at the imposing Sunset Boulevard restaurant.


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