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Russian-born trumpeter Alex Sipiagin makes it sound almost too easy. The instrument naturally lends itself to little burps and blats and rough edges between notes — even in the hands of top-notch hornmen, many of whom have incorporated these into the instrument’s swagger. But Sipiagin smooths all of that into lines that flow like quicksilver. It’s hard to name a more elegant yet fiery trumpeter in jazz; what’s more, Sipiagin can adapt to and elevate a variety of contexts, from a rip-roaring orchestra like the Mingus Big Band to modernist small groups.
NoFo Skies is nonetheless something of an outlier, embracing a more expansive concept fueled by thrusts of jazz-rock fusion, of all things. (Previous albums from Sipiagin’s band Opus 5 do contain seeds of the direction he follows here.) The opening track, “Rush,” connects fusion-era CTI dates to a clever melody in mixed meter — a device much in vogue these days — while the solos take place against a breezy triple meter. (Think of it as 1970s Freddie Hubbard meets hip-hop.) On the slightly gothic title track, the superb and chronically underestimated pianist John Escreet applies synth textures to channel Chick Corea’s Return To Forever. Two moody tone poems, “Sky 1” and “Sky 2,” may (and should) remind you of the band Weather Report. The beat on “Between AM’s” softens Eddie Harris’ mid-’60s four-on-the-floor funk to create an insistent shuffle for vocalist Alina Engibaryan against a backdrop of trumpet, flute and electric piano.
NoFo (named for the North Fork of Long Island, where Sipiagin lives) is hardly a throwback; the aesthetic and production values place it firmly in the present. But in tapping into older influences, Sipiagin brings a perspective missing in many of the contemporary jazz and jazz-adjacent albums that have plowed similar turf for a while now. If he’s a little late to this party, he makes up for it with engaging compositions and appealing textures. And the supporting cast — which boasts saxophonists Chris Potter, Will Vinson, and Steve Wilson — provides the extra boost needed to sustain nearly 80 minutes of music.—Neil Tesser