|Russian-born trumpeter Alex Sipiagin has been living in New York for nearly two decades, and this year marks watersheds in both his life and, with the release of Prints, his music. "I turn forty this year," he says, "and I feel very lucky as I can see my plans slowly coming to fruition - though, of course, they're not completely fulfilled." |
The past year was also meaningful in that it was Sipiagin's first opportunity to return to Russia since moving to the United States in 1990. "Russia has changed so much," says Sipiagin, "and coming back to Russia, I realized that I was born into such a huge culture witha remarkable history. I traveled to places like Solovki, where Alexandr Solzhenitsyn was imprisoned. It's a little island, very isolated, and it was a monastery for 600 years before being transformed into a Russian jail. Now it's back to being a peaceful monastery where people can respect the history.
"The title of the album came from that visit. All these amazing people - poets, musicians, artists - who were totally innocent ended up in this jail and were killed. You could see the prints of the souls of these people everywhere. There is such a special energy, especially now that it is back to being a monastery and everything is so peaceful. When I left in 1990 it was still the Soviet Union; everything was gray. Now I look back and I can't even recognize my home town of Yaroslav. It looks like a little Paris, it's so beautiful."
Previous recordings by Sipiagin, including 2005's Returning and 2004's Equilibrium, were conceived following tours with the late saxophonist Michael Brecker and legendary bassist Dave Holland, respectively. "I'm most inspired when I'm traveling," explains Sipiagin. "When I'm at home I create musical sketches and then just leave them alone. You get different moods from different countries, and different melodies come to mind."
Sipiagin has learned a lot from extensive work, in addition to Holland and Brecker, with the Mingus Big Band, the smaller Mingus Dynasty, and time spent with the groups of arranger/bandleaders Gil Evans and Gil Goldstein. But it's the cadre of New York musicians that has grown over the past two decades and includes all the players on this date - bassist Scott Colley, pianist David Kikoski, saxophonist Chris Potter and drummer Antonio Sanchez - with whom Sipiagin has learned the most and been able to develop his unique approach to composition.
"I was very lucky," says Sipiagin, "when I first moved to New York. I met (saxophonist) David Binney and Scott, and we started getting together at Scott's place a few times a week, trying out different things. It was the first time I was introduced to really difficult music, with complicated meters and changes."
Sipiagin's writing on Prints represents his strongest and deepest to date; more detailed and complex even though it doesn't necessary sound that way: "I try to create contexts where everyone can best express themselves. I want to create stories where there's a melody that emerges, not just a collectino of notes or phrases."
Earlier records highlighted Sipiagin's remarkably warm, rounded tone on both trumpet and flugelhorn, even in the upper registers. He's always favored weaving tales over supefluous showmanship, despite his inestimable technique. The compositions on Prints take Sipiagin's lyrical approach to writing a step further, challenging the quintet with more episodic compositions consisting of longer form themes and richer counterpoint. All the more remarkable, then, that there was only one six hour rehearsal for the date, and the recording session itself was only a single day, with many pieces completed in one take.
Sipiagin has drawn from the same close circle of musical friends for his five previous Criss Cross releases, and the quintet on Prints is no different: "First of all I heard Kikoski - not even piano, just Dave's energy. Dave plays such beautiful solos. He's able to play so beautifully and with so much energy, but sometimes he just holds onto a chord for a few bars, and the music really breathes."
As Chris Potter's star continues to rise through his work with Dave Holland and his own projects, he's becoming increasingly difficult to book. "Chris can play any style but at the same time he has a strong personality. He's always my first choice because he brings such incredible energy to the music. He can completely change the color of an album. I think he'll be less and less available to do these kinds of projects as he wants to use his free time more to work on his own projects, but so far I've been lucky to get him."
Sipiagin describes the equally in-demand Scott Colley's tone as "my favorite bass sound. I often hear Scott's sound in my head when I write because it's so perfectly in tune, so dynamic and he creates such beautiful lines. I am always amazed at his concentration during everybody's solos. Scott is different than a lot of bassists. He can play three notes, he can play a hundred notes, and every note makes perfect sense."
Antonio Sanchez is the relative newcomer to this New York cadre: another south-after musician whose star has risen quickly since beginning to work with guitarist Pat Metheny (a longtime influence for Sipiagin who wrote two new compositions specifically for the trumpeter's Returning) in 2001. "I first heard Antonio with Pat and I was blown away by his sensitivity," says Sipiagin. "When I did Michael Brecker's Wide Angles project Antonio was on it. There was a real and immediate musical connection, and a friendship that developed over sevearl tours we did with Michael. There aren't many drummers with whom I feel so secure. I feel 100% safe playing with Antonio because he's always listening."
The best records are those that are more than just a collectino of individual compositions. Instead, there's an overriding arc, a larger story that's told over the course of an hour. Prints has a very strong narrative. What is unusual, however, is that the first three tunes - Path, Bumpy Road and Prints, which form a conceptual triptych, were very specifically conceived this way. "The first three songs were written in that order, rehearsed in that order and recorded in that order," says Sipiagin. "They're connected to each other and are all inspired by my trip to Russia. (more...)
Alex Sipiagin (trumpet, flugelhorn)
Chris Potter (tenor sax)
David Kikoski (piano)
Scott Colley (bass)
Antonio Sanchez (drums)
Monday Michiru (flute on track #3)
Produced by Gerry Teekens
Recording Engineer: Michael Marciano
Mixing: Max Bolleman
Mastering: The Masters
Recorded: October 12, 2006
Recorded at Systems Two Recording Studios, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Photography: Gildas Bocle
Cover Design: Gerry Teekens/Bloemendaal in Vorm
2007 Criss Cross Jazz