Less ‘From Russia With Love’ and more ‘From Russia With Groove’ multi instrumentalist Valeriy Stepanov is all set to take the smooth jazz world by storm with his Skytown Records debut release, ‘New Beginnings’.
This YouTube sensation who, to date, can boast almost three million Internet views, enjoys such an online profile that musicians around the world are clamoring to both cover and rework his music. Indeed Stepanov has been identified as having the ability to traverse the entire spectrum of jazz, from his smooth jazz sensibilities, that are very much the province of ‘New Beginnings’, through to his own brand of fusion that can accurately be described as Chick Corea meets Jeff Lorber.
Above all, what makes Valeriy stand out from the crowd is the superb formula he has for rhythm and melody, his unbounded energy and a technique that is solidly grounded in music theory. In fact, although being initially taught by his father, Valeriy is a prodigy of world-renowned cellist Mstislav Rostropovich and it was through his influence that he gained a scholarship to study at the prestigious Central Music School of Moscow State Conservatory.
Not only that, with six years of recording and performing with his band VSAK, Valeriy has polished these skills yet further so that now, at age 27, he is perfectly positioned to join the ever increasing band of Eastern European artists to have found musical fame in the west.
Nevertheless, his journey has been more challenging than most. His father, who not only went on to become a drummer and singer but also taught the then six-year-old Valeriy, to play piano, was born in the Siberian city of Yermakovo, located in the far eastern reaches of Russia. It was the site of the infamous 503th Gulag building where prisoners were kept and made to work on Stalin’s ill-fated railway that was meant to run across the extreme north of the country.
Shortly after Stalin’s death in 1953 Valeriy’s father moved further south to the city of Irkutsk, close to the Mongolian border and Lake Baikal, the largest body of freshwater in the world. It was here that Valeriy grew up, surrounded by music and destined to become the artist he is today.
The story of Valeriy Stepanov is very much a story of today, a story where the Internet combined with an abundance of talent can propel a performer from the most unlikely of locations into the global spotlight.
‘New Beginnings’ is the first chapter of this story and, fittingly, opens with the high octane ‘Happy People’.
It finds Stepanov really tearing it up on keys in the most accessible of ways while the addition of cello by Vsevolod Guzov plus a splash of synth horns are production masterstrokes that prove to be the icing on a very tasty cake.
The first single to be serviced to radio is ‘Tonight’, a slice of easy grooving smooth jazz that will resonate with fans of the genre everywhere. The track is further enhanced by an unmistakable contribution on guitar from the one and only U-Nam and talking of smooth jazz A-Listers it is sax supremo Marion Meadows that lends a hand with the gently mellifluous ‘Look At The Stars’.
More easy grooving smooth jazz is on offer with ‘Walk In The Park’, which serves as another fine vehicle for Valeriy’s brilliant dexterity on keys while elsewhere he keeps the party going and then some with the dazzling and hugely current ‘Twilight Sky’ that is memorable on many levels and not least for Stepanov’s scintillating riff on keyboards.
Later, Valeriy uses the edgy ‘No Doubt Now’ to show off the fusion focused side of his musical persona and he stays in that mode for the high-energy ‘Heartburn’, which courtesy of funky alto sax from Andrey Chmut is entirely off the chain.
Valeriy is also an accomplished drummer and cites the great Dave Weckl as one of his major influences. It is not surprising therefore that for ‘New Beginnings’ he includes a cool version of ‘In Common’, Weckl’s 1990 interpretation of the song originally written and performed by the Peter Mayer Group. The atmospheric opening conjures up images of The Rippingtons at their very best and with Chmut again involved this is exactly what smooth jazz circa 2017 should be all about.
More of that Rippingtons groove is evident with the hugely expansive ‘Half Moon’ which finds Valeriy taking his time before building to a stunning crescendo and another standout in an album packed full of them is the charming ‘Snowbreeze’. Here a lightness of touch and a superb vibe delivers a number that is beauty personified but when Valeriy tips a hat to the legendary Herbie Hancock the result is a sumptuous re-imagining of the classic ‘Butterfly’.
He also finds space for a wonderful take on the contemplative ‘Lyn’ that was composed by veteran bass player Abraham Laboriel Sr. but in the final analysis ‘New Beginnings’ stands alone as a magnificent showcase for the artistry, writing skills, and production know-how of Valeriy Stepanov, a true star in the making.
‘New Beginnings’ will be released April 24 with ‘Tonight’ going for adds May 1.