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Award-winning trumpeter Jonathan Saraga's First Vision, is a skillfully conceived and exquisitely realized debut that brings to mind the edgy, envelope-pushing hard bop of many a Blue Note record in the early 1960s. The modal melodies are artfully orchestrated, allowing each musician the full breadth of his spontaneous creativity without resorting to unfettered clamor. Not a single note is wasted.
Whether on trumpet or flugelhorn, Saraga's clear, elegiac tone weaves intricate musical tales around the themes. "Guidance," a contemplative piece, features Levantine hints, especially in Jeff Dingler
Saraga's poetic sense comes through clearly on "Wandering Child," opening with lilting, lullaby-like lines alternating between flugelhorn and alto saxophone. Saraga's expressive and circular improvisation, with its strong hints of eastern harmonies, evolves into a troubadour's lovelorn song. Peter Park's darkly simmering guitar brings another dimension to this wistfully memorable tune.
Park leads the rhythm section, supportively punctuating the wind instruments' conversation on "The Reiki Practitioner," another composition with an oriental touch. Altoist Colin Gordon echoes Saraga, creating a haunting ambience before the trumpeter's warm, complex and engrossing flight of improvisational fancy.
Gordon's serpentine saxophone ebbs and flows in an inventive extemporization, alternating between cool expansiveness and fast, piercing and passionate staccato on the angular and bluesy "Rampant Teddy Bear." While the loosely swinging cadence is anchored around Dingler's slightly off-center bass, Gusten Rudolph's bottom-heavy and exhilarating rolling drums produce intricate patterns.
The quintet also exhibits inventive ensemble work on the crepuscular ballad, "Recurring Dream." The languid horns set a laidback mood while the rhythm instruments bubble underneath. The ardent Saraga/Gordon duet fades into a cooler ambience as the group concludes on a nocturnal tone.
On his first outing as a leader, Saraga demonstrates a rare blend of individuality and maturity. Hopefully First Vision serves as the cornerstone for a brilliant career.