Jazz was one of the best-kept secrets of communist Russia, officially suppressed but actually flourishing in underground clubs, bootleg studios and on pirate radio stations. Fortunately for music fans, trumpeter Alex Sipiagin heard enough to become one of Russia’s premier jazz players and to emigrate to New York when the chance came, in the ’90s.
Almost immediately, Sipiagin found himself playing in the burgeoning New York hardcore bop scene. He secured the trumpet chair in the famed Mingus Big Band, an ongoing project that has been the proving ground for many up-and-coming jazz stars. From there, he recorded with other Mingus Band alums, such as bassist Scott Colley, pianist David Kikoski and saxophonist Chris Potter. This ever-shifting group recorded a series of straight-ahead sessions on the Dutch label Criss Cross Jazz that stand as some of the best hard-blowing jazz of the past decade. Sipiagin will bring his own scorching quintet to Tokyo to play two evenings at Body and Soul, this week and next.
Sipiagin’s four recordings as a leader stay rooted in the basics: talented writing, tight group interplay and long, well-crafted solos. Though his first release didn’t register on the radar screen, the second and third, “Steppin’ Zone” and “Mirrors,” garnered lavish praise in the jazz press. Both CDs hold tight to an unadorned setup of bass, drums and piano or guitar, with occasional sax. On top of this tensile core, Sipiagin’s trumpeting lathers in layers and layers of notes. His tone is taut and resonant, crisply defining the lead lines and smoothly converting them into long, free-flowing channels of melody.
His release last May, “Mirrors,” includes one Mingus number among pieces written on tour with the Dave Holland Big Band. Holland’s influence can be heard in the flexible structures set in joyous forward drive. Sipiagin’s strong trumpeting and thoughtful compositions sound even better than on his earlier work. While he still clearly remains within the post-bop paradigm, Sipiagin is too good a leader and improviser to let that constrain the texturing and the jamming. The touches of modal, free and Latin jazz add spice, while the gentle, lyrical moments cool things down. The balanced self-assurance and intense soloing of Sipiagin’s quintet will provide some of the most appealing jazz to be heard in a Tokyo club this summer.
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