"Tight" is the word that most readily comes to mind to describe this band's playing. For Reflections, his tenth release as a leader for the Dutch Criss Cross label, trombonist Conrad Herwig has joined forces with Russian tenor man Igor Butman as co-leader. Rounding out the front-line is trumpeter extraordinaire Alex Sipiagin, a name that will be very familiar to anyone who keeps up with Criss Cross releases. The music on this disc, beautifully recorded and mixed by Michael Marciano, falls mostly into the "straight-ahead" category and relies on the exceptional talents of the players and the chemistry they achieve together to bring excitement to the music.
The program consists of five Herwig originals, two tunes contributed by Butman, and a swinging take on Gershwin's "Who Cares?" The three horn players blend well together and achieve a sound that is at times reminiscent of the classic Shorter/Hubbard/Fuller incarnation of the Jazz Messengers. Also in that spirit, each of the horn players seems eager to speak his piece and lead the band in a new direction. On five of the eight tunes Butman leads off the solo sections and never fails to impress with his warm, dark tone and long, coherent phrases that burn with an understated fire. Herwig follows suit with solos that often culminate in acrobatic displays of agility in the upper range of the trombone. Sipiagin also rises to the occasion magnificently and contributes some mind-blowing solos as well.
With such a strong horn section one might think that the rhythm section would recede into the background on a record like this, but that is certainly not the case on Reflections. Pianist David Kikoski offers solos that succeed in matching the intensity and wit of the horn players (his solo on "King of the Mountain" is one of the high points of the album), but it is his magnificent comping that deserves the most admiration. His playing choices are constantly informed by both the soloists and the rhythm section and his clever reactions keep the music consistently engaging. The same can be said of drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts who often sounds as though he has a third arm. Watts' playing is busy, but is always tasteful and raises the level of playing for the rest of the band. It is clear that bassist Kenny Davis is also listening to the rest of the band closely and performs admirably as an accompanist.
Swing is the dominant feel of the session but there are a few exceptions. The second track, "King of the Mountain" has a modern straight-eighth feel and is one of the standout tracks of the set, with all the soloists doing some of their best work. The title track is a delicate tastefully-done ballad. As it's name implies, "Samba De Igor" has a relaxed Brazilian feel and Herwig's "Olvidame," which (judging by its title) one might expect to have a Latin feel as well, is actually pure funk. Overall, the musicianship and sympathy displayed on this recording makes it a rewarding experience that is worth several listens.
Falling Out; King of the Mountain; Wingspan; Reflections; Olvidame; Who Cares?; Samba De Igor; Big O's Blues
Alex Sipiagin: Trumpet, Flugelhorn; Igor Butman: Tenor Sax; Conrad Herwig: Trombone; David Kikoski: Piano; Kenny Davis: Bass; Jeff "Tain" Watts: Drums