Vitaly Golovnev: to whom it may concern (2009)
Unlike young musicians who are anxious to show off their catholic tastes, the focal point of trumpeter Vitaly Golovnev's debut recording as a leader falls into the comparatively narrow bop-to-hard bop continuum. Because these tightly entwined styles were firmly entrenched over a half-century ago, and then diluted or abandoned altogether in favor of other developments, their adoption by youngsters may seem like a dead end or an attempt to capture some of the glory of long deceased elders. Golovnev's prodigious talents as a composer and soloist, as well as the potent contributions of a band of relative unknowns, transcends mere imitation and makes to whom it may concern something more than a rehashing of familiar sounds.
Even if the band's execution were lackluster and the soloists less-than-stellar, the leader's nine compositions alone would make for a noteworthy session. Golovnev has a gift for writing distinctive melodies and placing them in somewhat irregular forms. The title track begins by way of a rousing, brassy fanfare, and then the horns breathlessly state the twisting, rapid fire theme. Played mostly by Golovnev's trumpet, the melody of the ballad "Never" is pure yearning. The horns handle the tricky, running on ice line of "Miki's Trick" with aplomb.
On the up tempo tracks Golovnev's solos evince a chiseled, steely quality as he taps into the rhythm section's sturdy swing. His digressions are brief and meaningfullike spitting out a chain of terse, screeching high notes during the third chorus of "Whose Shoes?" Golovnev's ballad and medium tempo playing is a shrewd amalgam of sensitivity and assertiveness. The "Never" solo evolves from fragile echoes of the tune's melody into punchy phrases. Golovnev's "Elegy" improv artfully juxtaposes quiet, private sounding thoughts and bristling, energetic statements.
The band's other primary soloists, tenor saxophonist Jake Saslow and pianist Miki Hayama, make a genuine impact on the record. Saslow's "Corner Bistro" solo plays off of the hard-hitting Latin groove of bassist Boris Kozlov and drummer Jason Brown, and leaves very little space for them to fill. Although there are almost no familiar hot elements in his playinglike screams, blues cries, or rapid, breath taking runsin a straightforward way, he's quite exciting. Sometimes overriding the bass and drums, Saslow takes telling detours that are part of a tightly coiled narrative. There's a pithy, almost pleading quality (somewhat reminiscent of Seamus Blake) to his tone that adds a sense of urgency. Hayama's seven choruses (two before the head; five after) on Golovnev's brisk blues "Pretty Far" are a model of no nonsense swing and ebullient momentum. While staying inside of the deep pocket created by Kozlov and Brown, at one point in the third chorus, she briefly scatters notes in different directions and then deftly snaps back into place.
In the years to come it will be a pleasure to revisit Golovnev's stylistically coherent and vigorously executed recording. And keep an eye out for Golovnev, Saslow, and Hayama. In the right settings they're all likely to produce a lot more absorbing work.
Track Listing: Whose Shoes?; Some Kind Of Blues; To Whom It May Concern; Never; Corner Bistro; Miki's Trick; Elegy; Waiting; Pretty Far.
Personnel: Vitaly Golovnev: trumpet; Jake Saslow: tenor sax; Miki Hayama: piano; Boris Kozlov: bass; Jason Brown: drums.