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Alex Sipiagin: Upstream (Posi-Tone)

A review of the Russian-born trumpeter and flugelhorn player's Posi-Tone debut

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Alex Sipiagin: Upstream
The cover of Upstream by Alex Sipiagin

After nearly 20 albums as a leader, Alex Sipiagin takes what might be called a no-concept approach for his Posi-Tone debut. Backed by a sturdy rhythm section of reliable label regulars, the Russian-born trumpeter and flugelhorn player, a longtime New Yorker, simply applies his prodigious chops and well-honed instincts to a set of artfully contoured, often urgent pieces mostly penned by members of the quartet. But there’s nothing simple about the results: Thanks to his prowess as an arranger and his ability to elicit inspired work from collaborators, Sipiagin makes mini-odysseys of these eight originals plus Wayne Shorter’s “Miyako.”  

The closing title track, the longest and maybe most ambitious tune here, is a case in point. Art Hirahara’s unaccompanied color-shifting electric piano chording makes way for a twisty, repeated theme, inspired by a traditional Russian folk song, before the trumpeter and pianist take flight on brash solos, urged on by the jet-fuel propulsion of drummer Rudy Royston and Boris Kozlov, on bass guitar. The tune doesn’t conclude so much as burn itself out, sliding into a brief chill zone in the wake of all that high-intensity forward motion.

“Call” opens the album with a different type of musical drama, Sipiagin’s octave-doubled horn pushing hard against pulsing rhythms before the four switch to a swing groove that shuttles from tight to elastic to breaking apart. “SipaTham” has similar attributes, while the pretty, relatively relaxed “Rain” allows more space to savor Sipiagin’s dark, resonant flugel tone and Kozlov’s prowess on upright. The group’s version of “Miyako” brings out the piece’s beauty and mystery and offers yet another affirmation of the leader’s status as a trumpeter whose playing is—yet again—thoroughly engaging and surprising.

Learn more about Upstream on Amazon!


Alex Sipiagin: Going for It 100 Percent

Philip Booth

Philip Booth is a longtime arts journalist and bass player based in Florida. Formerly the pop music critic for the Tampa Tribune, he has contributed to many national publications, recently including the Washington PostJazziz, and Relix. His byline also has appeared in DownBeat, Bass Player, Billboard, Variety, Spin, Rolling Stone, and several academic journals. Sharkskin, the second album from his long-running band, Acme Jazz Garage, has aired on radio stations across the U.S.