When he was all of one year of age, trumpeter Michael Sarian relocated from his birthplace in Canada to Buenos Aires, Argentina. Learning from some of that country's top musicians, Sarian began touring in Europe while still a teenager. Having worked in rock, disco and big bands, he eventually moved to New York where he studied jazz at NYU. While enrolled in that program he played and recorded with Joe Lovano and fusion guitarist Wayne Krantz among others.
Sarian's debut album Subtitles (Self-produced, 2014) was a straight-ahead acoustic effort with occasional hints of Argentina's folk style. The Escape Suite is a clear departure from its predecessor and owes more to Sarian's earlier experiences with rock and jazz fusion. The sextet (enlarged to a septet on three of the seven numbers) is populated with a mix of electric and acoustic andon the wholethe sound doesn't so much skew in either direction but works as a synthesis.
There is a deep fraternal nature to Sarian's sextet/septet which is billed as "The Chabones," an urban Argentinian word for "dude" or "guy." All the players are alumni of the New York University Jazz program. Saxophonists Ricky Alexander and Jim Piela, trombonist David Banker, bassist Trevor Brown, drummer Josh Bailey, trombonist Christopher Misch-Bloxdorf and Michael Verselli on synthesizer and Rhodes have all benefitted from the all-star faculty at NYU and the effect is evident in their playing
With album art work that is strikingly reminiscent of Berkeley Breathed's Bill the Cat, we have a visual indication of Sarian's somewhat quirky cross-pollination of styles on this collection of original compositions. "Brett Atlas" opens the set with a soulful feeling; Banker's guest appearance on trombone and Verselli's thick monophonic minimoog adding depth to Alexander's stirring tenor solo. Sarian's trumpet literally speaks at the start of "Skirt Shock" which morphs into a Rick Wakeman/Chicago Transit Authority-like amalgam that breaks midway for another great sax solo.
A seamless segue into "North" maintains that fusing of brass and soul-rock impression until Verselli's Rhodes moves the tune into a mode that's not dissimilar to Return to Forever. Continuing unbroken, Sarian's trumpet and the reeds adopt a more flat out rock beat led by Bailey's persuasive beat on "Chain Mobile." "Bruises" is by far the most soulful piece on The Escape Suite and the tune on which Sarian's playing really shines. "Bitch Whistle" diverts with an electronics drenched experimental sound before the album wraps up with a marginally Latin tinged "Rise" featuring Misch-Bloxdorf's rich trombone lead.
The Escape Suite for all its electronic components and rock beats, can have a meditative effect at time. Sarian's compositions are complex and layered but easily accessible and the musicianship of all involved is first rate. The album should be an effective launching point for Sarian and company and for listeners, an opportunity to get in on the ground floor of some promising talent.