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Little in 44-year-old trumpeter Tim Hagan's lengthy, mostly post-bop career prepares you for the intensely pleasurable shock of Animation * Imagination. Without giving too much away, Hagans (who's billed for the first time here by his surname only) serves up a drum 'n' bass masterpiece that has as much to offer a dedicated jazz listener as a young, casual clubgoer.
Surprisingly, he set out to make himself a "heavy metal" album in the tradition of his youthful heroes Jeff Beck, the James Gang and Grand Funk Railroad. The result captures more the spirit than the sound of those 70s rock warhorses. In essence, Hagans has achieved something grander. He's broken out of the right-wing jazz conservatism which the Marsalis mob (and fellow clones) forced upon the world. Hagan's bold step into clubland, like Nils Petter Molvar's Khmer (ECM - 1998), is a substantially more original and noteworthy jazz innovation (forget all the wasted, awful attempts to marry jazz with hip hop).
It's tempting to think of Animation * Imagination as Hagan's Bitches Brew, or even his Dancing In Your Head or Tone Dialing. It's a turning point, a starting point or, quite simply, a good point.
Hagans's record also recalls Miles's and Ornette's landmarks in the genuinely new soundscapes he brings to jazz. That's due in large part to the considerable contribution of producer Bob Belden who, significantly, is supervising the reissue of Miles's electric sides and, like, Teo Macero, a most ambidextrously talented musician himself. The creative effort, only merely enhanced by Hagan's tremendous facility as a trumpeter (especially notable when he's not muted, as on "Trumpet Sandwich"), is invested in the perplexing and often deep-groove soundscapes he and Belden conjure.
Starting, as well it should, with the straight trio swing of "The Original Drum and Bass," Hagans offers a blistering 79-second workout blazing over Billy Kilson's acoustic drums and Ira Coleman's acoustic bass. This launches into the more startling ambient electronica of the title cut, a Prime Time groove featuring the scorching guitar of Kurt Rosenwinkel and Scott Kinsey's tasty "reverse piano" solo (however that's accomplished). From thereon, don't look back.
Hagan serves up more meat than fat in these grooves. Sample the clip rhythm of "Snakes Kin," the trendy Indian grind of "Far West" or the Milesian exploration of "Hud Doyle." Only rarely does he lapse into the needlessly sustained repetition that befalls most drum 'n' bass ("I Heard You Were Dropped"). He even manages to mesh Miles and Ornette ("Hud Doyle," "Are You Threatening Me") with such simple, sampleable success that Herb Alpert (and fans) would approve. But Hagan's finest moments are also the disc's least representative and most melodic: the lovely, ethereal "French Girl" and the ironic, inspired funk of the spontaneous "What They Don't Tell You About Jazz" (spotting Kevin Hays's masterful Rhodes machinations).
So is it jazz? I think so. Good jazz? No question about it. Sure, Animation * Imagination, like "Chameleon," or "Rockit," merely-is-as-merely-does offer a creative perspective on music of the moment. But it proves that drum 'n' bass might have something fresh to offer to jazz. Fad or not, it does reward with repeated listens and somewhere along the line, Animation * Imagination may prove to be a true achievement.
Songs:The Original Drum and Bass; Animation/Imagination; Slo Mo; 28 If; Snakes Kin; Far West; Hud Doyle; Love's Lullaby; I Heard You Were Dropped; Are You Threatening Me?; French Girl; Trumpet Sandwich; What They Don't Tell You About Jazz.
Players:Tim Hagans: trumpet; Ira Coleman: bass; Billy Kilson: drums; Scott Kinsey: synthesizers and programming; DJ Smash: synthesizers and programming; DJ Kingsize: drum and bass programming; Matthew Backer: sounds; Kurt Rosenwinkel: guitar; David Dyson: electric bass; Bob Belden: reversed acoustic piano, soprano sax; Kevin Hayes: Fender Rhodes electric piano and programming; Alfred Lion: narration.