Sunday, March 25, 2012

Two Saxophonists Offer Noteworthy Albums: The latest from Jurgen Hagenlocher and Michael Campagna

It’s been a while since I have been able to really sit down and write a review of some recently released albums that I have received. Despite the lack of print, I have never stopped listening to the many offerings that come my way on a weekly basis. I usually try to feature an in depth review of one album at a time, but I thought it might be useful to do a more succinct write up of a couple of albums by two saxophonists, previously unfamiliar to me, that I found interesting.

Tenorman Jurgen Hagenlocher has a noteworthy offering titled Leap in the Dark . With able assistance by a stellar supporting cast including Alex Sipiagin on trumpet, Dave Kikoski on piano and Rhodes, Boris Koslov on bass and Nate Smith on drums, the album is an enjoyable compilation of original music by the forty-five year old saxophonist from Germany. There is strong front line simpatico throughout, listen to the lead track “Pollyanna”. Sipagin and Hagenlocher have developed an intuitive symbiosis by performing together regularly since 2008. Hagenlocher has a smooth Dexter Gordon-like sound especially on the lyrical “The Myth of the Dreamcatcher.” Kikoski is a marvelous, under-appreciated accompanist who shines on both acoustic and electric piano. Bassist Koslov can be a formidable soloist in his own right and drummer Nate Smith is superlatively understated but steadfastly present. On the title track “Leap into the Dark” a mellifluous flugelhorn solo by Dave Holland alumni Sipiagin, reveals his continuously developing talent. A dreamy Rhodes solo by Kikoski floats on a cloud. For those who like evocative ballads the lamenting “April’s Mood” fills the bill quite nicely as does the reflective “Dark Turns Bright.” Hagenlocher is a talented player/composer and Leap In the Dark is a solid outing of straight contemporary jazz by a tight professional group. I was unable to find a video from this latest group but here is a taste of Hagenlocher's playing.

Saxophonist Michael Campagna released his Moments, an album he says represents his own personal expression of those moments in time when he finds himself ready to compose, moments of heightened awareness. He has taught music at his alma mater at the University of Miami as well as the New School and The Paganini Conservatory in Genoa, Italy. He is joined on this outing by the trumpeter Michael Rodriguez, the pianist Robert Rodriguez, the bassist Hans Glawischnig, the drummer Eric Doob and the harpist Brandee Younger.

Michael Campagna introduces you to the easy listening “Summer Rain,” which at times has a feel reminiscent of early Jay Beckenstein and Spyro Gyra, but then in a complete turnaround, the saxophonist does a beautiful tribute piece to John Coltrane titled “Dear John.” Campagna’s horn is deeply evocative of a reflective, lyrical player in the style of Coltrane. He deftly incorporates the mystical sound of Brandee Younger’s harp and the soaring trumpet of Michael Rodriguez in this most interesting homage. “Journeys” is an undulating conversation between Rodriguez on trumpet and Campagna on tenor, nicely supported by the tight rhythm section.

On his light and airy “Celestial Romance,” written for his wife’s mother Anna, and later on “Bridges” Campagna shows his ability to play flute with a delicate wispiness. “Midnight Whistle” offers a distinctively Coltrane inspired sound that is again accentuated with Younger’s heavenly harp. The frontline of Rodriguez and Campagna play well together, at times in deliberate counterpoint to each other. The thirty-three year old Rodriguez, who has played in formidable big bands led by Charlie Haden and Toshiko Akiyoshi, is a maturing voice on the trumpet that shows great poise and promise.

Coltrane inspired compositions continue on this outing with “You Are All” which starts out with an unusual modulated bass introduction by Glawischnig and some inspired playing by Campagna. Younger again evokes Alice Coltrane’s celestial sound on harp. Pianist Robert Rodriguez, who plays with vibraphonist Joe Locke's Force of Four group, offers a solid solo on this one with some nice comping by drummer Doob. “Song for Monica” and the inspiring “Hope” round out this rewarding album.

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