Many stellar jazz musicians have a peculiar way of a slipping into the scene without being noticed until it’s "too late," when their talents are so outstanding that they are unavoidable. Alex Sipiagin can no longer be called a newcomer; he has arrived. Born and raised in Russia, he received classical training at the Gnessin Conservatory in Moscow for eight years before taking up jazz in the mid-‘80s. After placing fourth in the International Louis Armstrong Competition (sponsored by the Thelonious Monk Institute), Sipiagin moved to New York in 1991 and began building a daunting resume with renowned groups like Gil Goldstein’s Zebra Coast Orchestra, Dave Holland’s Big Band, the Mingus Big Band, the Mingus Orchestra, and Michael Brecker’s Quinductet and Sextet.
Stylistically, Sipiagin is a fluid, powerful soloist with a warm, earnest tone à la Art Farmer or Tom Harrell (especially while on flugelhorn) and an extensive modern, post-bop vocabulary bringing to mind contemporaries like Dave Douglas or Terence Blanchard. His playing always offers some kind of head-tripping horn gymnastics, but he also possesses a restless passion to communicate. His ideas are always logical and never fail to draw something out of the listener. He can execute fleet-fingered lines effortlessly, but he doesn't let his ideas get buried in the licks. As a leader with over half a dozen albums to his name, Returning is a welcome addition.
While on tour with Michael Brecker, Sipiagin encountered Pat Metheny at the North Sea Jazz Festival, who asked if Sipiagin would mind recording another song of his (the trumpeter covered "Missouri Uncompromised" on his album Steppin' Zone). After the tour, Metheny actually penned two songs specifically for Returning. One of them, “Snova” is a light bossa featuring Adam Rogers on acoustic guitar. His solo here is lyrical and dazzling, no doubt thanks to his thorough classical guitar studies at the Mannes College of Music. Tenor saxophonist Seamus Blake, as always, will have sax fans agape at his technique, but his ideas here never fail to sing. Sipagin's cascading lines are sensitive and use intervallic jumps in just the right places (one might be reminded of Woody Shaw). According to Sipiagin, who named Metheny’s composition here, “Snova” is Russian for “again” but not in a repeating sense. Instead, it is used to mean “anew” or “afresh,” something affirmative -- the same spirit that hovers over all the virtuosic yet human elements of Returning.
(P.S. Look out for Sipiagin’s upcoming project in 2006 called “FreshDirect” with ArtistShare.)