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Alex Sipiagin: Returning

John Kelman By

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Some artists leap into visibility; others almost insidiously find their way into the public eye. Russian-born, New York-resident trumpeter Alex Sipiagin has made considerable strides in the past decade in establishing his reputation within the New York jazz community. He's been recruited for increasingly high profile gigs with the Mingus Big Band, Michael Brecker and, most notably, Dave Holland's big band—touring and appearing on both What Goes Around (ECM, 2002) and Overtime (Dare2, 2005).

With his own series of Criss Cross recordings, Spiagin has proven himself an ever-evolving voice in what some are calling "the new mainstream." Returning finds Sipiagin continuing to mine a more modernistic approach to the tradition—one that favors original composition over retreads of standards, incorporating a richer compositional palette.

Sipiagin doesn't eschew the standards repertoire entirely; each album features one or two compositions from artists like Mingus, Monk, and Evans. But like others of his generation, Sipiagin doesn't place these tunes on a pedestal, instead reinterpreting them with his own contemporary bent. Sipiagin and tenor saxophonist Seamus Blake wind their way in and around the familiar theme to Bill Evans' "Turn Out the Stars," but guitarist Adam Rogers' harmonic backdrop is more open-ended and ambiguous.

Sipiagin's own writing reflects his exposure to the inner workings of artists like Holland and Brecker, but also his own growing comfort level with complex meters and richer orchestration. In fact, the New York crew that includes Sipiagin, Rogers, and alto saxophonist David Binney seems to be reinventing the language of jazz. Sipiagin's title track may be metrically irregular, but it flows with effortless energy, thanks to drummer Antonio Sanchez's delicately tumultuous approach. Dramatic without resorting to obvious devices, Rogers, Blake, and Sipiagin work hard off each other at the core of the oblique "Miniature," where a more communal approach to soloing replaces individual delineation.

That these artists are creating their own vernacular is further evidenced by the fact that Spiagin's three compositions feel completely of a kind with Rogers' "Pictures," despite the fact that it's a more complicated piece revolving around contrapuntal melodies from Blake, Sipiagin, and bassist Scott Colley. Even the light bossa of "Snova" and the equally Latin-inflected but more powerful "Son of Thirteen"—two compositions written specifically for Sipiagin by Pat Metheny—feel part of the same landscape. Metheny's ability to mask deeper complexity under a lyrical and accessible veneer is not lost on Sipiagin or Rogers. In fact, it's something of a litmus test for this new mainstream.

Reaching out to an audience is important, but never at the expense of one's own voice, and everyone on Returning demonstrates an ability to build solos—either alone or collectively—that are imaginative and innovative without losing sight of fundamentals like melody and construction. Sipiagin, whose warm tone almost renders invisible the difference between his trumpet and flugelhorn, is an evocative player whose avoidance of outspoken virtuosity belies his clearly advanced technique. The ever-compelling Returning is but further evidence of his continued ascension.


Track Listing: Returning; Extra Chance; Miniature; Pictures; Snova; Son of Thirteen; Turn Out the Stars.

Personnel: Alex Sipiagin: trumpet, flugelhorn; Seamus Blake: tenor saxophone; Adam Rogers: guitar; Scott Colley: bass; Antonio Sanchez: drums.

Title: Returning | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Criss Cross

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