It's been five years since Jonathan Saraga
's debut release, First Vision
, but the trumpeter's sophomore album was worth waiting for. Saraga's precise and passionate technique, combined with thoughtful, well- constructed compositions (and a couple nicely-arranged cover tunes) make for a stimulating listen that rewards on a number of levels. The record's title captures the feel of the music well, as each track pursues its own distinctive path, often developing in unexpected ways that are melodically rich and rhythmically sophisticated.
It's a new group for Saraga this time around, and a fine one, with especially strong contributions from the second horn, alto saxophonist Remy Le Boeuf
. Nowhere is this better demonstrated than with the opener, "Uprising." Built around an infectious bass ostinato part, the two horns state the theme decisively, with just a slight air of mystery as the melody insinuates itself. The piece then begins to wind, with some apt time signature shifts to create the sense of ebb and flow that animates a lot of Saraga's compositions. Both Saraga and Le Boeuf have excellent solo statements here, with Saraga's clarion-like tone sailing over the rest of the band's surging support and Le Boeuf's even more emphatic offering raising the tension level even higher. A sustained vamp then allows for some quicksilver drumming from Kenneth Salters
, with the horns eventually re-entering to bring the journey to a satisfying conclusion.
The rest of Saraga's compositions display the same dedication to craft, with generous times running in the eight to ten-minute range allowing for multiple themes to unfold. "The Great Journey" traverses a complex but tuneful terrain, with its unpredictable pathway negotiated with aplomb by guitarist Aki Ishiguro
, pianist Chris Pattishall
, bassist Rick Rosato
, and Salters. Despite the piece's disparate moments, the lyrical playing of Saraga and Le Boeuf is a constant, giving the music its cohesiveness and warmth. Even Lennon and McCartney's "Fool on the Hill" is a given a unique read, as Saraga's arrangement allows for the melody to be refracted through some tricky detours, but never losing its central thread.
On less serpentine pieces, like the winsome ballad "Lullaby" or "Sabbath Prayer" (from Fiddler on the Roof
), Saraga's emotional depth emerges more powerfully, with less complexity to distract from his purity of voice and delivery. And here too, the two-horn tandem of Saraga and Le Boeuf is indispensable: engaging unison and harmony parts are woven throughout both pieces, allowing both players' well-honed melodic intuitions to take center stage.
Embodying a deft compositional approach and some first-rate musicianship, Saraga's Journey
is just that: an opportunity to discover and explore some exciting musical territory, with a skilled and adventurous leader as a guide.