Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Inner & Outer Spaces

Two delightful new albums both influenced by the adventurous soundscapes of Wayne Shorter.

Photo: Geoff Countryman
Joe Lovano (tenor saxophone) and Dave Douglas (trumpet) created their co-led quintet Sound Prints in 2011 to celebrate the musical and artistic contributions of Wayne Shorter.  Both were members of the SFJazz Collective when that ensemble celebrated Mr. Shorter's music for its 2008 season.  Douglas's 1997 Arabesque album "Stargazer" was the trumpeter's first dedication to the saxophonist/ composer on record –– while the album only featured three songs by Mr. Shorter, the majority of Douglas's original pieces illustrate how he took the influences and adapted them without mimicking one of his musical mentor.

"Other Worlds" (Greenleaf Music) is the third album by Sound Prints and the first to feature all compositions by Lovano or Douglas.  The rhythm section supporting the two leaders remains the same: pianist Lawrence Fields, bassist Linda May Han Oh, and drummer Joey Baron. The band went into the studio a day after finishing a week-long run at The Village Vanguard in New York City; those gigs took place in January of 2020, six weeks before the club, the city, and the world closed down.  The familiarity with the material makes this 70-minute program move organically forward with exquisite playing from all involved. You can hear the influence of both Mr. Shorter and of Miles Davis's classic quintet of the the mid-1960s on Lovano's "Life on Earth", especially in the piano support and Baron's driving drums a la Tony Williams.   Lovano's "Sky Miles" is less a tribute to the trumpeter as it is a hard-driving, hard bop tune in which the band plays with the tempo, speeding up and slowing down which, at times, is dizzying.  Listen to the rhythm section during the solos as there are moments when the pianist, bassist, and drummer are each going in different directions and other times when all five musicians are in sync. 

Photo: Merrick Winter
Overall, this music should not surprise fans of the two leaders. Neither one is afraid of showing their influences or for pushing into areas in which both the musicians and the listeners are challenged.  And this band can swing. Fields's piano support on "Pythagoras" allows the soloists to soar and Baron to explore.  On that track, the pianist and drummer offer support in the style of Jimmy Garrison and McCoy Tyner in John Coltrane's Quartet. "Antiquity to Outer Space" (composed by Douglas) could be a title of a Sun Ra album but here is a multi-sectioned that opens up to allow each musician to express him- or her- self. Fields, who has worked with Lovano and Christian Scott aTunde Dejuah, sparkles throughout the album and, especially, on this track.  The two duets –– Douglas with Ms. May Han Oh and Lovano with Baron –– are quite inventive.  The trumpeter's handsome ballad, "The Transcendentalists", contains a handsome melody as well as strong solo statements from Lovano and Douglas (muted trumpet) as well as Fields (why doesn't he have an album out under his own name?) 

"Other Worlds" is an album well worth exploring! Joe Lovano & Dave Douglas Sound Prints is a group one needs to hear and (soon, one hopes) to see.  Yes, they play "in the tradition" but it's a very big, very wide, "tradition", a universe still ripe for traversing!

For more information, go to To hear more and to purchase the album, go to

Photo: Anna Yatskevich
Trumpeter and composer Alex Sipiagin has been quite a busy musicians since moving to New York City from his native Russia in 1990. He's played in numerous ensembles, ranging from the Mingus Big Band & Orchestra to the Gil Evans Orchestra, to several groups led by bassist Dave Holland to Dave Sanborn to Michael Brecker to Elvis Costello and many others. Sipiagin has taught at New York University with residencies in both Amsterdam and Basel, Switzerland.  His discography includes 11 albums on Criss Cross Jazz plus recordings on SunnySide Records, TCB-The Sound of Montreux, 5Passion, and others. His new album, "Upstream" (his debut as a leader on Posi-Tone Records), serves as a farewell to the United States as, since the October 2020 recording, the trumpeter and his wife have spent time in Singapore and have plans to settle in Northern Italy

The new album is the latest in Posi-Tone Marc Free's "pandemic" recordings.  With the "house" rhythm section composed of Art Hirahara (piano, Fender Rhodes), Boris Kozlov (acoustic and electric basses), and Rudy Royston (drums) (the same trio recorded on Alexa Tarantino's "Firefly" and Behn Gillece's "Still Doing Our Thing", the two Posi-Tone releases before this one), Sipiagin's trumpet powers and sings its way through  the nine-song program.  The leader composed five of the tracks, two are from bassist (and fellow Russian) Kozlov, plus one each from pianist Hirahara and a lovely reading ofWayne Shorter's "Miyako".  That last piece listed, a gentle ballad first played by the composer on his 1969 Blue Note release "Schizophrenia", spotlights Sipiagin's fine flugelhorn work.  The leader composed "Rain", another flugelhorn ballad, as he was waiting for his wife to be released from the hospital. Perhaps that is why the music sounds so emotionally strong as well as wistful.  Pianist Hirahara contributed album's other splendid ballad; "Echo Canyon" moves forward on a rising melody lines with supple flugelhorn pushed forward by Royston's active but respectful drums. The composer's powerful solo energizes Sipiagin, whose soaring solo is punctuated by the drummer's press rolls and splashing cymbals.

Photo: Anna Yatskevich
Throughout the recording, Rudy Royston plays like he's been released from solitary confinement  The album's opening track, "Call", may initially remind you of one of Wayne Shorter's open-ended pieces but the fire rising up from the drummer sets this piece apart.  Listen how Kozlov and Royston set a torrid pace that really pushes both the trumpeter and pianist to respond emphatically.  Later in the program, "SipaTham" (the title combines the composer's name with that of his wife Melissa Tham) is a response to the pandemic and how the world outside the couple's home is changing rapidly.  The give-and-take of the trumpet and piano, powered by the rhythm section, stands out.  The bassist's funky "Magic Square", was first played by Sipiagin and Kozlov when both were in school in Moscow in the 1980s.  The electric bass and the powerful drumming has the feel of Chick Corea's electric Return to Forever and Lennie White's dynamic power.  How Royston's explosive drumming did not blow the mute out of the trumpet I'm not sure, but the drum solo just might shake the speakers off the wall!

The title track closes the album on a high.  After Hirahara'a Fender Rhodes intro, the song flies forward on the strength of the drums and Kozlov's thunderous electric bass.  The piece features solos by the leader, Hirahara, and Royston whose brash solo sounds as if he's trying to chase away the pandemic with his hands and feet!  "Upstream" has plenty of power and beauty in its 55 minutes. Alex Sipiagin has made numerous albums with great rhythm sections (Kozlov appears on several as do drummers Antonio Sanchez, Eric Harland, Jeff "Tain" Watts, and Johnathan Blake) –– this recording is among the best!  

To learn more about the trumpeter, go to (needs to be updated).  

Click here to hear "Sight":

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