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Alex Sipiagin: Mirages

John Kelman By

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With little muss or fuss, trumpeter Alex Sipiagin has been gradually building a first-call reputation. Since emigrating from Russia in the early '90s, he has played with everyone from the late Michael Brecker and James Moody to David Binney and the Mingus Big Band. But it's his association with Dave Holland that's garnered him the greatest name recognition. He's a charter member of the bassist's Big Band, he's gigged with Holland's as-yet-unrecorded Octet, and toured extensively with the Sextet responsible for Pass It On (Dare2, 2008).

With a growing discography as a leader—the majority released by the Dutch Criss Cross label—it's remarkable that Sipiagin has managed to demonstrate palpable growth from album to album, given the label's somewhat restrictive approach—usually allowing only one day to record. Seeming to peak both compositionally and performance-wise with the one-two punch of his more spontaneous Prints (Criss Cross, 2007), and ambitious Out of the Circle (ArtistShare, 2007), where Sipiagin was afforded the luxury of both more recording time and a larger ensemble, Mirages is a more straight-ahead affair, with emphasis on solos and in-the-moment interaction. An effervescent energy pervading the entire set provides Mirages with its own unique place amongst Sipiagin's remarkably consistent and appealing discography.

Tenor saxophonist Seamus Blake, drummer Johnathan Blake and bassist Boris Kozlov—who emigrated from Russia at the same time as Sipiagin—have all appeared on one or more of the trumpeter's nine albums as a leader. Only pianist Mulgrew Miller is a seeming newcomer, though he's no stranger to Sipiagin, having clocked significant road time with the trumpeter as a member of Dave Holland's Sextet. The pianist's instantly recognizable sound—stemming from McCoy Tyner's modal innovation but with a lighter touch and broader harmonic sensibility—cranks up the heat on Sipiagin's four originals, including two takes of the high-octane "One for Mike" that bookend the disc with sheer modal energy, pushing the entire group towards unrelenting power and thrilling interaction.

Sipiagin's writing may be less complex and long-form this time around, but these are still tough charts that set up a variety of contexts over which the ample solo space provided by Sipiagin is exploited by the trumpeter and his bandmates. Of the three cover tunes, Wayne Shorter's balladic "Iris" is a memorable respite from the album's largely relentless energy. Still, there's a simmering heat, with Blake's solo in particular feeling barely contained; Miller's a capella intro is a remarkable feat of contrapuntal beauty and rich harmonic ideation, while Sipiagin's unerring melodicism scores some of the album's most striking moments.

Mirages may seem to be something of a detour for Sipiagin, but in truth it fits seamlessly into the trumpeter's discography. The emphasis may be on playing rather than writing this time around but it's still earmarked with Sipiagin's characteristically appealing melodicism. And with a group this hot, it stands out as one of the trumpeter's most passionate records to date.

Track Listing: One for Mike I; Mirages; Live Score; Levitin's Kingdom; Just One of Those Things; Tetragon; Iris; One for Mike II.

Personnel: Alex Sipiagin: trumpet, flugelhorn; Seamus Blake: tenor saxophone; Mulgrew Miller: piano; Boriz Kozlov: bass; Johnathan Blake: drums.

Title: Mirages | Year Released: 2009 | Record Label: Criss Cross


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