Monday, August 23, 2021

"A Conversation:" Orchestral Communication by Tim Hagans and the NDR Big Band

Tim Hagans and the NDR Big Band  A Conversation  Waiting Moon Records

I have followed the trumpeter, Tim Hagans, for years and I always found his playing to be fiery, at his best exploratory, and always inventive. His musical horizons were never limited by his acumen as an accomplished trumpet player. Hagans has produced seventeen recordings as a leader. He has honed his skills and expanded his musical challenges to include composition, arranging, and now conducting. His latest release on Waiting Moon Records titled A Conversation, matches Hagans up with the excellent NDR Big Band for the fourth time. This five-movement piece of work is conversational, dynamic, at times cinematic, often raucous, and by any measure an important achievement.

Hagans has taken the instruments of the NDR Big Band, here nineteen pieces plus his trumpet, and formed four ensembles to play his challenging music. Instead of the instruments being deployed in traditional sections by type- Hagans has formed three mixed ensembles, each containing trumpet, woodwinds, flutes, and trombones in various configurations and one rhythm section that includes guitar, piano bass, drums, and percussion. He has written and arranged these groups like independent jazz ensembles that are directed to communicate in cooperation and at times vie with each other for sonic attention in his works. Hagans’ ensemble voicings are more related to their sonic identity and emotional effect.  Essentially, A Conversation explores possibilities of musical conversation in new, exciting, and perhaps unexpected ways. The music is a amalgam of elements from classical, jazz and orchestrated film music disciplines.

Hagans’ music is progressive, orchestral, and musically rich. Each movement is between twelve to sixteen minutes; each like an aural theatrical presentation that use the four groupings to create a vibrant, and at times, competing approach to the music.

"Movement I" utilizes alternating brass, flutes, and woodwinds in ascending statements that cascade with the help of Jukkis Uotila’s percolating drums and Marcio Doctor’s complementary percussion to maintain a perceptible direction. These ensembles are powerful and boisterous. They converse like friendly neighbors at a street party where multiple voices add their own identity to the gathering. Vladyslav Sendecki fires off an energetic and angular piano solo that has the lead voice of this conversation before the music stops abruptly and moves into a gentler stage, flute whispering over a throbbing rhythmic base. Individual voices, trumpets, flutes, trombones, and percussive accompaniment are orchestrated to build to a robust conclusion.

"Movement II" opens with modulating sections swelling into a raucous interchange of exchanging musical ideas. There seems to be no melodic anchor to these pieces, the music is more like vignettes that open and expand like a cinematic scene from one act to another. But in "Movement II" there is a repeated line in at about the three-minute mark that is maintained by one section and accompanied by others. This unfolds into a gorgeous, extended bass clarinet solo by Daniel Buch that follows the same established theme, improvising on it. The movement also features a beautiful and buoyant bass solo by Ingmar Heller whose sound is tonally rich and fluid and carries on to the coda. Here Hagans seems interested in the darker, lower tones and the aural effects they can evoke.  

"Movement III" starts off with a Heller meandering bass line upon which Sendecki offering an angular piano line that is accentuated by sectional accompaniment in ascending steps.  Hagans adds rash, boisterous trombone accents by Dan Gottshall and a high register squealing trumpet solo by Stephan Meinberg. At about the four-minute mark the rhythm section starts a swinging section that is lead by Uotila’s intrepid drum work and sections entering the fray. There is a searing and inventive trumpet solo that is followed by Buch’s rousing baritone solo, some powerful drum and bass work, and an impressive alto sax solo by Pete Bolte. This one joyously swings leading to an expressive muted Hagans trumpet at the coda.  

"Movement IV" is one of my favorite tracks on the album. It features an opening with the composer on his open trumpet.  Hagans has impressive control, modulating to create microtonal slurs of expression before opening the music up to the entire group. Fiete Felsch offers a rousing, Phil Woods-like alto solo that lights it up with his excitement. Marcio Doctor’s percussive skills make this one  move with a noir-like feeling that is delightful. The sections compete at one point in a boisterous, cacophonous outreach for attention, and it losses the flow a little for me, but Felsch’s strong sax voice maintains the drive. The movement ends with a rhythmic display of sonic riches by Doctor’s wind-like creations.

"Movement V" opens with an island-inspired rhythm that evokes memories of the cinematic work of master composer/arranger Henry Mancini. There is no doubting the theater-like qualities of some of Hagans' music on this album. His muted trumpet soars over the music like a clarion bird overwhelmed by the sight of approaching land. The section work is most unified here, lending tonal support to the ostinato sway. Sendecki’s piano comp is astute and minimal. A splash of Uotila’s cymbal opens an entry to a more robust section that features some vibrant solo trombone work by Klaus Heidenreich.  The sections are orchestrated to play sequentially in a explosive ending that is like a sonic eruption before ending in a structured fade.

Take a listen for yourself:

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