In sifting through a collection of critical commentary on Alex Sipiagin, one would be hard-pressed to find a review or a set of liner notes that neglects to mention the apparently pervasive Russian influence present in the trumpeter's writing and playing. The curious thing, though, is that one would be equally hard pressed to come up with some solid examples of this commingling within Sipiagin's music.
In the liner notes to his latest effort, aptly entitled Equilibrium, Sipiagin, a native Russian, takes a moment to explain this apparent discrepancy. "I'm not really taking experiences from Russian songs... It has to do with the way Russian people respond to music. You try to look as deep as possible, not just listen for fun, but to search for some deep sense." While the first name to come to mind upon hearing Equilibrium was Dave Holland and, alas, not Leo Tolstoy, Sipiagin's explanation does quite a bit to clear my confusion, as well as to shed personal light on his playing. When placed in this context, his crystal clear lines, the free, yet rigid manner in which he slices through the even the most turbulent changes, like a blade through troubled water, make complete sense. His playing is an expression of his musical thinkingintensely focused and earnestly searching, alternating between feverish embellishments that overflow across bar lines and masterfully understated revelations. No where is this thinking more clear than in the Toninho Horta piece "Sonhando Com O Meu Primeiro Amor," in which Sipiagin adapts a musical persona that flutters freely back and forth between affect and resolve.
And then, of course, there's Chris Potter. Simply put, he is a monster of a playerI get the impression that he is literally devouring the changes. On the title track, he tackles the opening solo with a fire that sparks the rhythm section to a sort of drawn out explosion. Gene Jackson's drumming is positively ignited, his rolls elevated to full-fledged somersaults. David Binney, on alto and soprano, holds his own next to Potter's looming shadow, seemingly striking a balance between the wild abandon of the tenor and the fervent intellectualism of the trumpet. The two free pieces (which come as a welcome surprise in the midst of a group of highly arranged tunes), performed by the horns only, are evidence of the deep connections that these three share while playing.
One of the great successes of this record is its ability to celebrate personality in the midst of complicated innovationsmost notably the use of polyrhythms and complicated voicings. The arrangements are meticulously written but avoid restrictiveness. This is most notably true in Sipiagin's overlaying of Monk's "Evidence" and "Misterioso." The arrangement is inspiring in its creativity, and yet has obviously been planned down to the detail. This sort of delicate balance, it appears, is at the heart of Sipiagin's search for "deep meaning." The result is worth listening to.
Personnel: Alex Sipiagin - Trumpet, Fluegelhorn;
Chris Potter - Tenor and Soprano Sax;
David Binney - Alto and Soprano Sax;
David Kikoski - Piano;
Scott Colley - Bass;
Gene Jackson- Drums.