liner notes
What is becoming a strong series of releases from Criss Cross, Returning marks Alex Sipiagin's fifth album on the label. Recorded in October, 2004, Sipiagin (or "Sasha" as his family and close friends are allowed to call him) continues to tap into his circle of like-minded musical peers, this time rounding up Adam Rogers, Scott Colley, Antonio Sanchez and Seamus Blake. The members have all forged a strong relationship, both as musicians and as friends, through various circumstances, notably with Michael Brecker's recent Quindectet album and subsequent tours, of which Sipiagin, Rogers and Sanchez were members for both the quindectet and the smaller sextet groups.

As with all Criss Cross albums, the sound production and sonic textures are so well melded together from instrument to instrument, the warmth of the tones throwing one back to the days of analogue recordings. The harmonic and rhythmic synchronicity between the players is like a well rehearsed ballet. They each bring beauty and complexity into the conversation of jazz with other subtle elements peppering the moods. Blake and Sipiagin complement each other perfectly, their tones molding into each others' as the heads are played, then on the instances when they solo together, they are effortless in the weaving of unique melodic lines which never collide against the other. Colley and Sanchez both offer sensitive yet forceful pulse to the tracks, and we are indulged with outstanding lyrical solos by both. Rogers has long been recognized as being in the forefront of the young collective that reigns over much of today's jazz and easily takes on the role of masterfully painting the harmonic colors of great nuance.

Much of the three original self-penned tracks on this album were composed amidst tours with the Brecker groups, which Sipiagin explains he drew inspiration from. They ope the album in a continuous flow from one tune to the next as he wrote them within a similar concept as a trilogy. "The idea behind 'Returning' is about when things go off kilter in your life, it takes you a while to regain your balance, but eventually you get back on track to your imagination and reality," Sipiagin reveals. "With 'Extra Chance,' it's on the same vein of thought in that after certain changes, you always try to find yourself and return. It's as if you go off track, but then eventually find your way again and start afresh. Also, the idea that life is full of choices and you can always try one thing or another, and even if things aren't happening, there is always an extra chance." It is an observance he makes of life in general, not only his own but also from other's. "Miniature" is, as Sipiagin explains, a short piece reflecting pure vision of what is going on around you.

In addition to the three self-composed tracks, Rogers lends his writing talent on "Pictures" with Sipiagin and Blake playfully answering each other in a series of melodies with a bridge that builds beautifully from one chord to the next. There are also two tunes by Pat Metheny written for Sipiagin. One, in a Latin tinged mainstream straight ahead vein, is called "Son of Thirteen," which Metheny spontaneously gave Sipiagin the title for, backstage at one of his concerts. When pressed for the meaning behind the title, Sipiagin is unable to answer, leaving this writer to feel that he is content to just leave that mystery alone, finding his own truth within the music itself.

For the second tune with its haunting and beautiful melody, Metheny asked him to think of a Russian title. As Sipiagin explains, "I wanted to come up with a word that cannot be translated exactly into English, a word that only has meaning within the Russian language." The name he decided on is CHOBA (pronounced as "SNO-va"). "This word has a very beautiful and deep meaning in Russian," Sipiagin further explains. The dictionary shows: "again, anew, afresh." "But if you think of the word 'again,' it could have negative connotation as well as a positive one. CHOBA is used only in a positive way. In fact, one of the words which means 'again' in Russian is 'apiat' which means to step back and repeat, whereas CHO BA refers not to repeating, but to begin again and going forward."

"I was on tour with Michael (Brecker) in the summer of 2004, and as he was the Artist in Residence that year at the North Sea Jazz Festival, we spent several days there," explains Sipiagin. It was at the North Sea that he ran into Metheny. "I had covered Pat's 'Missouri Uncompromised' on my first Criss Cross album, Steppin' Zone as I love his works and respect him greatly, and I was scared for a while that he would hate my version of it, but it turns out he seems to like it. When I told him I was about to make my next album and asked if he would mind me covering another tune of his, he told me to check out his trio performance later, and that there were many tunes he'd never recorded that they were trying out that night that would be good for trumpet, and I could make a choice," After returning from the tour and following up with Metheny, Sipiagin got offered two original tunes specifically written for the project.

It is clear Sipiagin was moved greatly by this gesture. "This is so special for me. While in Russia, Pat's music helped me to go through my early musical period and really made me study. His music made me learn about the importance of combining the technical and emotional aspects of music, and really defined to me what music is about." What was, and still is, a mandatory two year draft into the army for young Russian men proved challenging during the then unstable political years, and Sipiagin minces no words. "It was depressing all the way around. There was no way to go to America; you could only dream about it. But Pat's music made me believe I could do it, and here I am."

It has become a signature of Sipiagin's to include in his album a cover of one of his icons. In an earlier recording, Hindsight (2001), Sipiagin recorded Bill Evans' "Very Early," and this time around we find another Evans' composition, "Turn Out the Stars." I Like the idea of continuing the cycle of recording my favorite composers, such as Monk, Evans, Mingus, etc.," Sipiagin says. "I've always loved Bill Evans and his harmonies, and I've always wanted to record this tune as it has a beautiful combination of chords but I tried to find voicings in my own way."

Voted as a Rising Star for the 2005 Downbeat Critics Choice for trumpet, Sipiagin has proven once again with this album that he is an artist whose works we will be looking forward to exploring more of in the years to come.

Monday Michiru
Returning (from "Returning")
Extra-Chance (from "Returning")
Miniature (from "Returning")
Pictures (from "Returning")
Snova (from "Returning")
Son of Thirteen (from "Returning")
Turn Out the Stars (from "Returning")

Alex Sipiagin (trumpet, flugelhorn)
Seamus Blake (tenor sax)
Adam Rogers (guitar)
Scott Colley (bass)
Antonio Sanchez (drums)

Produced by Gerry Teekens
Executive Producer: K. Hasselpflug
Recording Engineer: Max Bolleman
Mastering: The Masters
Recorded: October 11, 2004

Photography: Gildas Bocle
Cover Design: Gerry Teekens & H. Bloemendaal