Over the course of seven years and six albums for Criss Cross, trumpeter Alex Sipiagin has been evolving as a player, writer and bandleader, with Prints (2007) his most fully realized effort to date. Still, the Dutch record label's insistence on short sessionsusually only a single dayimposes practical limitations on what its artists can accomplish on a larger scale. While Sipiagin continues to record for Criss Cross, the larger ensemble and more ambitious compositional scope of Out of the Circlehis first release using the web-based ArtistShare model that's been so successful for artists like Maria Schneideris an album that simply couldn't have been made within Criss Cross' limited timeframe.
Sipiagin expands his usual quintet/sextet approach to as large as a ten-piece, featuring players who are part of the same New York cadrebassist Scott Colley, guitarist Adam Rogers, drummer Antonio Sanchez and saxophonist/flautist Donny McCaslinalongside under-appreciated keyboardist Henry Hey, Dave Holland Big Band/Sextet co-conspirator Robin Eubanks on trombone, percussionist Daniel Sadownick, wife/vocalist Monday Michiru and well-known keyboardist/arranger Gil Goldstein on accordion. It's a potent combination, allowing Sipiagin the opportunity to explore more detailed compositional form while, at the same time, having the improvisational prowess available to keep things spontaneous throughout.
Sipiagin remains an eminently lyrical writer and soloist, although the contexts on Out of the Circle are his most challenging yet. What's always been a strong suit for the trumpeter, in addition to an inviting tone on whatever horn variant he plays, is his ability to find singable melodies, thread-through-needle-like, over the most difficult of changes. His solo on the relaxed but constantly shifting harmonies of the episodic "Syn" is a perfect exampleas are the contributions of Goldstein and Rogers.
Compositionally, Sipiagin explores a broader palette than usual, with a Brazilian undercurrent on more than one of the album's seven tracks, most notably the vocal track "Afternoon Dreams" and adventurous "Wind Dance," where Eubanks delivers the kind of characteristically unpredictable solo on which his reputation has been built over the past two decades. Sipiagin even approaches pop territory with Michiru's "Sketches of Myself"the only non-Sipiagin trackalthough it's still firmly entrenched in the jazz sphere, with richly melodic solos from both Sipiagin and Hey. Michiru, who has her own ArtistShare projects in release, demonstrates, like Sipiagin, a more complex lyricism, and a pure voice focused on melody rather than gymnastics.
Sipiagin's writing for a three-horn frontline is outstanding, with the horns-only (and multi-tracked) section following Sadownick's brief but inventive solo on "Syn" a marvel of contrapuntal and harmonic conception.
While the inherent spontaneity of his Criss Cross recordings will continue to be an important part of who he is, let's hope that Sipiagin can continue to pursue the more ambitious direction of Out of the Circle. When paired with Prints, it's a potent one-two punch of complex yet accessible writing, beautiful arrangements with a keen attention to detail, and risk-taking solos for which Sipiagin deserves a broader audience.
Personnel: Alex Sipiagin: trumpet, flugelhorn, piccolo trumpet, bass trumpet (7); Donny McCaslin: tenor and soprano saxophone, flute; Robin Eubanks: trombone; Adam Rogers: guitars; Henry Hey: keyboards; Antonio Sanchez: drums; Daniel Sadownick: percussion; Scott Colley: bass; Gil Goldstein: accordion; Monday Michiru: vocals and programming.