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Business News/ Opinion / Blogs/  Freedom song

Freedom song

Equally at ease with post bop and more modern explorations, Russian trumpeter Alex Sipiagin has emerged as a compelling composer and performer

Playing with style, Sipiagin continues to mature as a musicianPremium
Playing with style, Sipiagin continues to mature as a musician

From Russia to New York to Taiwan, trumpeter Alex Sipiagin is now much the travelled journeyman, living out a dream of playing exciting jazz on a quest that started in the Soviet hinterland. The winds of glasnost and perestroika in the eighties made it possible for a young Russian trumpeter to travel to America in the eighties to learn and practice music, play with the best, compose songs with ingenuity and put together thoroughly enjoyable albums that reward repeated listening.

The journey has been long for Sipiagin in the years of playing sideman in groups that included Mingus Big Band and Gil Evans Orchestra, and on the turn of the century, blowing the trumpet in bassist Dave Holland’s projects, associations he continues to cultivate. On the way he has jammed with many musicians such as Holland, Mulgrew Miller, Micheal Brecker and Antonio Sanchez, and locks horns regularly with the likes of Chris Potter and Seamus Blake.

Most importantly, Sipiagin has emerged as a strong leader, and has made one engaging album after the other, mostly on the Criss Cross label. He piqued my interest a few years ago when on random browsing I picked up a tribute to a favorite trumpeter of mine, Woody Shaw. Fronted by Sipiagin and featuring guitarist Adam Rogers, Generations: A Tribute to Woody Shaw (2010) had excellent renditions of Beyond All Limits, Cassandranite and Katrina Ballerina. I also learnt Shaw has been an inspiration for a young Russian boy discovering jazz in Yaroslavl, a small place a hundred mile from Moscow. That trail led me to the journey of Sipiagin, who has just released the unusually named Balance 38-58 (2015), where he embeds the Taiwanese connection.

In Taiwan, it appears, there are two popular drinks called 38 and 58, Sipiagin found out in a recent tour to that country. Inspired by the heady beverages, the title track shows the trumpeter in his signature polyphonic style, weaving complex rhythms in a groovy downbeat. Balance 38-58 features a sextet of alto sax David Binney, Rogers, pianist John Escreet, bassist Matt Brewer and drummer Eric Harland. A departure from Sipiagin’s more straight-ahead offerings that have drawn me towards him in the past few years, the album nevertheless has some interesting originals that mark the maturity of still-growing musician.

The post-bop pyrotechnics were more evident in his Overlooking Moments (2013), a fiery quartet of Sipiagin, Potter, Harland and bassist Scott Colley. Sparks are sure to fly with Potter around, who plays freely with Sipiagin in the release, having featured in previous albums as well. One such is the excellent Destinations Unknown (2011), composed entirely by Sipiagin bar one that delighted with a triple horn attack, including David Binney on alto sax in addition to Potter on tenor and Sipiagin himself. Pottermaniacs please note that he has always played well with Sipiagin, amply evident in even earlier albums like Hindsight (2002), Equilibrium (2004) and Prints (2007). These albums are well worth acquiring as they showcase the best in contemporary jazz rooted in brilliant extempore playing.

Sipiagin’s collaborations with Blake have also been similarly productive, resulting in Returning (2005), Mirages (2009) and Live at Smalls (2013). Mirages, in particular, is one of the best offerings by Sipiagin, where a mix of originals and covers makes for a thoroughly enjoyable outing.

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Jazz Oil is a fortnightly column on stories from the world of jazz. For the music that it features, visit here.

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Published: 01 Apr 2015, 11:49 AM IST
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