Just as the term jazz is notoriously hard to define, so are many terms within its world including mainstream. Going beyond the "I know it when I hear it" response, mainstream implies the acceptance of the older limits of melody, harmony and rhythm, whereby accessibility, meaning understandability, is more immediate.
While many players place the search for the holy grail of unique expression as their prime motivator, trumpeter Tim Hagans prefers to investigate his musical world more deeply, searching for new details to uncover rather than forcing out into the unknown. Alone Together
is decidedly mainstream in its basic sound that harkens the music from the past. However, it is also relentlessly exciting, sharp as a tact, and full of enough surprises to pique the ear of all but the most jaded listener.
Hagans' trumpet sound is effortless and perfectly centered, with an edge that has the hardness buffed away. The sound supports lines that flow smoothly, having a feel of inevitability mixed with surprise. The excitement of the recording comes from the juxtaposition of sheer technical skill with risk taking, in the way a tightrope walker looks calm and collected despite having no net beneath him.
Pianist Marc Copland must be given credit for much of the album's harmonic daring and sense of pushing the envelope. The mainstream label is vague enough to include his music, but it really does not fit. His harmonic voicings and passing chords resolve (or don't) in the most unexpected ways, creating an air of suspense and expectation which exists, however, within an intellectually cogent framework.
Bassist Drew Gress has appeared on Hagans' previous release, Beautiful Lily
(Pirouet, 2005) and has appeared with Copland on a number of albums for HatOLOGY and Pirouet. Drummer Jochen Rückert has played with both Hagans and Copland; so the quartet members are very familiar with each other.
The album falls into two parts, starting with four Copland tunes and ending with three very well known standards. The originals crackle with energy, enormous drive and exciting group tightness. The standards are just as attractive for how the known is stretched by the unknown. Alone Together
is, simply put; very good music from whatever angle it is heard, proving that jazz is alive and well.