How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
Segments begins well. John Hagen's tenor tone is rich and strong, his phrasing warm and soulful. Shanir Blumenkranz strums droning clusters of bass notes over drummer Todd Capp's free pulse. The piece rumbles and rolls along for ten pleasant minutes before gliding to a gentle finish. Track two introduces the second of several band configurations featured on the recording: pianist Denman Maroney, bassist Mark Dresser, and drummer Gerry Hemingway. On most of the pieces, snatches of Hagen's compositions, or "segments, can be heard as connective devices for improvised passages. Some pieces sound more thoroughly composed, the rhythm section floating freely over ephemerally coiling melodies and chords.
Lacking more information to supplement the meager statement given with the CD, it seems a fair guess that the music heard on Segments is roughly one part composition to three parts improvisation. This is a nice ratio, and Hagen and his sidemen artfully blend the two so that the boundaries between them are pleasantly blurred. The end effect is sophisticated, gently persuasive modern jazza little aimless-sounding sometimes, but also haunting, inviting repeated listens.
Hagen is the rare saxophonist leader who doesn't dominate the show. Even with a trio, where many in his shoes would feel obliged to grab the spotlight, Hagen shares it with grace. Which is not to say he doesn't shine; on the contrary, his playing is satisfyingly solid, not overpowering or brash. Throughout this very well-recorded session every instrument, including the bass, can always be heard clearly. This is a welcome relief from the jangling, jarring (or, conversely, the stifled studio) sound of many jazz albums. Segments has the potential to convert listeners averse to free improv by meeting them halfway, an éntente the music sorely needs.