Images

liner notes
A Russian jazz trumpet-player-and-a-half recording his first album on a Swiss label in New York sounds like news to Scoop here.

It really doesn't matter, though, where he or any of "it" comes from. Major Goose-Pimples comes first. (You remember the good Major.) But they've come a long way on a little-traveled road and I'll bet you'd like to hear how.

Sipiagin was born in the town of Yaroslavl, a wide spot on the road not far from a Middle of Nowhere called Moscow. In 1979, at the age of 12, he wandered more or less by chance in to the offices of a Komsomol (young Communist) Club. He walked through a door with "Children's Brass Orchestra" written on it. There he found Don Cherry's original Pakistani pocket trumpet and he...this is a Russian trumpet player joke but I forgot the punch line.

He was lucky to meet the one and only source of "illegal" music in town. A jazz dealer. The jazz dealer dealt recordings cut with scratches -- copies of copies of copies; cuts of cuts of cuts. It was enough, however, to give young Alexander some idea of what Cherry played in church on Sunday mornings.

Young Alexander won a competition which admitted him to the Moscow Gnesin Music College. Despite its being "illegal," Mr. Oseichuk and Mr. Brill, two teachers there, introduced their students to jazz.

You may wonder why "illegal" is in quotation marks. It is to say that, like with the Nazis in Germany before them, authoritarian authorities in the USSR recognized a threat to their System (improvisation by definition cannot be censored) but did not really know what to do about it.

Alexander was in the army at the age of 20. Jazz to its credit, was not only forbidden there, it was ridiculed. He was warned that "higher authorities" might question his patriotism if they found out he played jazz. One officer, even nastier than the others, stared at him and snarled: "I can see right through you. I know that all you want to do is grow long hair, play jazz and defect to America."

"Not me, Sir," Alexander replied.

He learned a lot in the army band, like how to play flatted fifths below zero.

Released, he was hired to play with the State-owned pop band "Melodia." There were daily recording sessions and television variety shows and Sipiagin learned how to read fly-shit. During his three years with "Melodia," Perestroika (you remember Perestroika, she sang with Stan Kenton, known as Kant Standem in Russia) began to open up doors and in 1989, Sipiagin won first prize in the first Russian Jazz Contest.

A month later he was sent to Texas with a student band to compete in the Corpus Christi Jazz Festival, where he stumbled upon a Thelonious Monk Competition brochure, filled it out, sent it away with a demo tape and then forgot all about it. The Monk people invited him to compete.

Luck luck luck. He got a visa in only two weeks; an impossible feat in those days. He landed in Washington "without a single penny in my pocket and without a single word of English in my brain." He also landed fourth prize and a Bach trumpet from Clark Terry.

He played with the Gil Evans Monday Night Orchestra in Sweet Basi; with the George Gruntz Concert Jazz Band in Switzerland and the Mingus Big Band wherever they went, which was everywhere. Along the way he learned how to play lead as well as he played jazz - very well indeed.

Telling his story, Sipiagin has been continually thanking luck. But this is too much good fortune even for a Russian. In fact, luck has had little to do with it. Luck is how you handle what the Good Lord giveth.

There is little chance here. Luck comes from good choices. Everybody who plays with Sipiagin on this album has been chosen for their combination of blendship, friendship, sonority and swing. It's New York/Moscow round-trip non-stop first-class. Plus all the right grooves on Lake Geneva.

You don't have to be a rocket scientist to hear how rare is Sipiagin's special combination of straight-ahead jazz sound and time and melancholy Russian soul. Somebody once said that there are only five swinging Russians in that entire country. Well, that sounds pessimistic, but anyway here sure as hell is one of them.

Mike Zwerin

(Mike Zwerin is the only person on earth to have played the trombone with Miles Davis and written about jazz music for the International Herald Tribune.)
Tarde (from "Images")
Freaker (from "Images")
Little Dancer (from "Images")
Song - 1 (from "Images")
Novgorod Bells (from "Images")
Midwestern Night Dream (from "Images")

personnel
Alex Sipiagin (trumpet, flugelhorn)
Chris Potter (tenor sax)
David Binney (alto sax)
Josh Rosement (trombone)
Gil Goldstein (piano, accordion)
Adam Rogers (guitar)
Scott Colley (bass)
Jeff Hirshfield (drums)
Kenny Wollesen (percussions)