|Anyone who has heard Alex Sipiagin's work with Dave Holland, Michael Brecker, the Mingus Big Band and more can attest that he is one of the world's leading jazz trumpeters. Add to that Sipiagin's seven previous albums as a leader for Criss Cross and the case is only stronger. But like every authoritative jazz musician of today, Sipiagin is part of a historical chain, building on the legacy and vocabulary of great artists who came before. One such artist is Woody Shaw, who set the highest of standards despite being widely overlooked in his day and dying tragically in 1989, at age 45.|
"Wood Shaw is my favorite trumpet player, my inspiration since I was studying in Russia," Sipiagin declares. "The first time I heard him, around 1985, we had a limited amount of music in Russia at the time, and our teacher had tapes so I got copies. I was completely blown away. Even now, many years later, every time I listen to Woody, I always find something new and inspiring -- a strong individual style and concept of playing. And I still feel a little weird about playing his music because I always think, man, I'm not deserving yet."
There isn't enough space here to assess Woody Shaw's impact. But just consider, in addition to his output as a leader, his formative experiences with Eric Dolphy, Horace Silver, Max Roach, Art Blakey, Chick Corea, Andrew Hill, Larry Young, McCoy Tyner, Jackie McLean and more. An imposing history to say the least, and yet Sipiagin's homage, Generations: Dedicated to Woody Shaw, rises to the level that history demands of it. More than that, it does Shaw the honor of situating him in a new context, so that we hear his work sparking the imaginations of younger players. "I wanted my own interpretation of Woody's music," says Sipiagin. "With my instrumentation, using guitar, which is completely different from his. I took his tunes and changed them a bit, not just to change them but because that's how I hear them."
As it happens, Woody Shaw appeared once on the Criss Cross label. The record was Introducing Kenny Garret (Criss 1014) back in 1985, the very year of Sipiagin's Shaw conversion. On drums was the late Tony Reedus, a frequent Shaw associate and a Criss Cross regular. On piano was Mulgrew Miller, another Shaw alum, who has recently shared the stage with Sipiagin the Dave Holland Sextet and even put his stamp on Sipiagin's previous Criss Cross album Mirages (Criss 1311). So in a sense, Sipiagin's career path has drawn him even deeper into Shaw's orbit.
For Generations, Sipiagin chose a band of peers -- guitarist Adam Rogers, bassist Boris Kozlov, drummer Antonio Sanchez -- who speak a highly evolved musical language, informed by Shaw and other greats but also by the shared experiences of the recent past. At one point, all four were members of the Michael Brecker Sextet and Quindectet, and their names crop up more than once in Sipiagin's leader discography, on discs including Hindsight (Criss 122), Mirrors (Criss 1236) and Returning (Criss 1270). Rogers is of course a notable Criss Cross leader in his own right, with five titles to his credit.
"Boris I know from 1982," Sipiagin remarks. "We have a very long relatinoship, studying at the same college and playing in the same bands in Russia. We finally moved to the U.S. in 1990 and our careers kind of developed the same way. Adam was one of the guitarists in the Gil Evans Orchestra at Sweet Basil, my first steady gig in the U.S., and he became one of the very important people in my life. Antonio I met during the Michael Brecker project and we became good friends. With these guys, I don't have to explain anything. They know what we're all doing."
There is no relation, Sipiagin confirms, between the original opening track Greenwood and Shaw's 1977 tune Rosewood. Rather, Sipiagin's melody comes from a trumpet phrase that occurs in The Greene Street Caper, from Shaw's 1981 album United (featuring Reedus and Mulgrew Miller). Specifically, it's the stop-time pickup into Shaw's solo, a beautifully enigmatic two-bar line that Sipiagin transforms into the basis of a wholly new piece. Rogers opens with a bass figure, Kozlov doubles it, and a mysterious 13-beat cycle kicks in to set up the melody. The time shifts to 4/4 swing in various starting permutations as the solos unfold. Given the burning result, it's understandable that Sipiagin should close the date with an alternate take of Greenwood, this one "with a completely different energy, especially from the rhythm section."
Obsequious is a Larry Young composition that the late organist recorded on piano (a rarity) in 1965. Woody Shaw led the date, but the music didn't see release until 1983 as In the Beginning. It was later reissued as the Muse CD Cassandranite, which is now very hard to find despite being a thrilling example of explosive mid-60s postbop. "Honestly, at first I thought Woody wrote this tune because it's a typical Woody Shaw-ish melody," says Sipiagin. Rogers, on an overdubbed track, doubles the challenging line with the trumpet -- a strategy the group employs on much of Generations. "It s a quartet recording," Sipiagin explains, "but at the same time I definitely heard another voice. So we decided to record the main track and then overdub the melodies." Sipiagin also opted not to replicate the uptempo swing of the original version. Instead, he crafted a slower, heavily syncopated main groove and added rests in between the phrases. "I purposely separated the solo section groove from the head, so it's two different things," he adds. "The solos have a different vibe but the parts connect at the same time."
Cassandranite, the title track of the aforementioned Muse CD, is a midtempo burner by Shaw (it featured Larry Young again on piano). "This is the only tune I didn't want to touch," Sipiagin admits. "I didn't want to change anything, except that with my instrumentation it already sounds different, with guitar and the way Antonio plays drums. I decided to leave it, except that we opened up the solo section and stayed on one harmony, an open vamp for a while." The take is admirably to the point, with solos that start in a looser feel and ease into walking swing. Sipiagin leads off, followed by Rogers and an especially nimble Kozlov.
(cont'd -- for more, see Generations booklet)
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