Russian native Alex Sipiagin comes to American jazz via many sources and inspirations. While he cites Wayne Shorter’s Native Dancer as one of his favorite albums, the breath of his influences includes Russian folk music, European classical forms and the whole scope of jazz in its many forms. A valuable sideman and member of the Mingus Big Band for several years now, Sipiagin has just recently had the opportunity to present himself as a leader on two fairly current Criss Cross Jazz releases.
Steppin’ Zone was recorded in the summer of 2000 and released last year and it prominently features fellow Mingus band mate David Kikoski at the piano, along with tenor saxophonist Chris Potter, bassist Scott Colley, and drummer Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts. Much of the material, both original and of other origin, takes on an up tempo character with the kind of ‘burn out’ atmosphere that Watts was used to generating for the Brothers Marsalis. Even Pat Metheny’s “Missouri Uncompromised” becomes a prickly bebop number that Sipiagin’s muted horn tackles with stunning clarity, his lines soaring into the upper stratosphere. So too, George Shearing might smile at the facelift given to “Conception,” a funky Latin groove giving things a jagged feel. Here, as elsewhere, the trumpeter’s clarion voice is liquid in its precision and ability to negotiate the toughest lines, with Potter often playing Wayne Shorter to Sipiagin’s Miles.
It could be that by titling his sophomore effort Hindsight, Sipiagin is telling us something about how he approached this new work. There’s much less of the flash and pyrotechnics that marked Steppin’ Zone and more of the thoughtful introspection that distinguishes pieces like “Very Early” and “Reincarnation of a Love Bird.” It’s as if the first record announced that he could wail with the big boys and now the focus is more on developing a group sound. Adam Rogers’ darkly romantic guitar gives things a softer hue, while drummer Gene Jackson spells Watts and in doing so offers Sipiagin and the returning Potter a different kind of under girding for their solo statements.
Again, much of the material comes from the trumpeter’s pen, although the beginning and end are nicely framed by two different versions of the aforementioned “Very Early.” In the final analysis, both of these albums find Sipiagin developing his creative muse in a way that his influences seem to be coming together into a personal amalgam. And if that wasn’t enough, fans of Chris Potter will want to check out some of the best of his most recent work as a sideman.