While he's been by no means inactive, it's been six years since trumpeter Tim Hagans released his last album, Re-Animation: Live in Montreal, which found him exploring his own version of electronica/fusion. Beautiful Lily returns him to a mainstream acoustic setting, but with his stellar quartetfeaturing pianist Marc Copland, bassist Drew Gress, and drummer Bill Stewartit's anything but conventional.
Hagans and Copland have crossed paths before, most notably on Copland's Softly (Savoy, 1997)also featuring Stewartand on their duet disc Between the Lines (Steeplechase, 2001), which put their clear chemistry front and center. Clearly they share much in common, but under Hagans' leadership Copland is a considerably more outgoing player than he has been on his own recent releases, including the trio recording Some Love Songs (Pirouet, 2005) and his profoundly moving solo album Time Within Time (Hatology, 2005).
Still, there's no question that Hagans' more extroverted approach and Copland's more introverted abstraction do cross-pollinate. The four duet tracks that bookend and break up the quartet tracks"Prologue," "Interlude I," "Interlude II," and "Epilogue"are all relatively dark-hued and oblique. Copland's 5/4 tone poem "The Sun at the Zenith" is equally somber, revolving around a haunting bass pattern but retaining Copland's obscure melodic sense and sparsely played but nevertheless dense harmonics. Hagans' "Space Dozen" is also based on an elliptical bass line and more obscure harmonies, but Gress and Stewart give it a little more swing.
Both Hagan's title track and "Emazing" are closer to the center, and offer gentle Latin references, but in the hands of Copland, Gress, and Stewart the allusion is less obvious and more suggestive, with Hagans' solos economical and lyrical. In contrast, Copland's "Doyle's Foil" is a spirited swinger that gives Hagans the chance to demonstrate a greater range, especially after Copland's solo, where Hagans and Stewart go it alone during one of the disc's most energetic moments.
Hagans favours a warm, vibrato-less sound, but he's more Woody Shaw than Miles. On the boppish "Buck Eyes" he proves, like Kenny Wheeler, that it's possible to aim for the high notes without being brash, although he avoids the huge intervallic jumps that so strongly define Wheeler's approach.
Beautiful Lily marks the third time that Copland has been heard covering Wayne Shorter's classic "Footprints" this year. But while his own solo and trio versions were as enigmatic as Shorter himself, Hagans' quartet arrangement straddles the fence between mystery and clarity.
Beautiful Lily's mainstream approach is nevertheless considerably left of center. In part it's the materialboth Hagans and Copland are more modernistic in their harmonic and rhythmic ideas. But equally it's the interpretation of the quartet, especially Gress' and Stewart's open-minded approachwhich maintains a pulse without beating you over the head with it. Proof positive that the mainstream can retain a sense of adventure and contemporary edge, Beautiful Lily is also a welcome return for Hagans as a leader. Let's hope we don't have to wait another six years for the followup.
Personnel: Tim Hagans: trumpet; Marc Copland: piano; Drew Gress: bass; Bill Stewart: drums.