He's been its musical director since 1996, but since 2005 trumpeter Tim Hagans' work with the Swedish Norbotten Big Band has run in a parallel stream to his more intimate, small ensemble work on the German Pirouet label, most recently on Alone Together (2008). As good as Worth the Wait (Fuzzy Music, 2008) was, The Avatar Sessions: The Music of Tim Hagansfocusing exclusively, as it does, on the trumpeter's musicis an even stronger follow-up.
Once again, Hagan collaborates with veteran drummer Peter Erskine, but this time around the team recruits a number of well-known guests that not only give the disc some additional star power, but provide Hagans with some stylistic specificity for the writing. With another veteran, Rufus Reid, filling the bass chair, Hagans also has a powerhouse of a rhythm section, capable of tearing it up on high energy charts like "Palt Seanuts" (a nod to the legendary Dizzy Gillespie), but equally adept at delivering the balladic "Here With Me" with a combination of textural grace and unfailing dynamism.
Hagans cut his teeth with Stan Kenton (where he first met Erskine) and Woody Herman, so while there's no shortage of big band swagger to reference his time with those icons, Hagans' modernistic penchant remains intact. The music may swing hardand it does so mightily on the opening "Buckeyes"but the harmonies are more sophisticated, the arrangements more detailed, and even the tempo subject to shift, as it does towards the end of George Garzone's barnstorming solo, leading into a solo of equal fire and invention from Hagans. Dave Liebman's soprano solo on "Here With Me," on the other hand, finds the usually expressionistic saxophonist in a more restrained mood, though the innate lyricism featured on this lushly orchestrated trackpicking up, perhaps, where Gil Evans left off and might have gone, were he alive todayis no surprise to any who have followed his long and varied career.
Liebman Group guitarist Vic Juris guests on the funkier "Boo," and while he doesn't solothat's left for some spirited interplay between Hagans and guest trumpeter Randy Breckerhis gritty, groove-centric accompaniment, once again proves him to be the perfect choice for any session. Hagans provides some of Norbotten's players a chance in the spotlight as well, in particular on the up-tempo "Box of Cannoli," where Hagans' knotty charta combination of bright horns and warm woodwinds, all bolstered by Erskine's combination of delicate cymbal work and thundering tomsnearly defies the imagination, but not absolutely articulate execution by the entire ensemble.
With a resurgence of larger ensembles on the American scene over the past couple years, it's easy to forget that, in Europe, big bands have never gone away. With a combination of intellectually deep yet visceral charts, high level soloing and, at its core, a large ensemble capable of anything he can throw at it, The Avatar Sessions finds Hagans fashioning a big band sound for the 21st centuryreverent of what's come before, but with a wide open eye on what's to come.
Buckeyes; Boo; Box of Cannoli; Here With Me; Palt Seanuts; Rufus at Gilly's; Song for Mirka.
Tim Hagans: solo trumpet, conductor; George Garzone: tenor saxophone (1); Randy Brecker: trumpet (2); Dave Liebman: soprano saxophone (4); Håkon Broström: saxophones and woodwinds; Jan Thelin: saxophones and woodwinds; Mats Garberg: saxophones and woodwinds; Karl-Martin Almqvist: saxophones and woodwinds; Per Moberg: saxophones and woodwinds; Bo Strandberg: trumpet; Magnus Ekholm: trumpet; Dan Johansson: trumpet; Tapio Maunuvaara: trumpet; Peter Dahlgren: trombone; Magnus Puls: trombone; Ola Nordqvist: trombone; Björn Hängsel: trombone; Daniel Tilling: piano, Fender Rhodes (2); Vic Juris: guitar (2); Rufus Reid: bass; Peter Erskine: drums, tambourine (2, 6).
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