Trumpeter Tim Hagans‘ ambitious new five-movement “concerto” with the NDR Bigband, A Conversation – streaming at Bandcamp – came out earlier this month. The suite owes as much to contemporary classical music as it does to jazz. As you would expect from a trumpeter, much of this is very bright and brassy. Challenging moments outnumber the more consonant interludes. Hagans’ sense of adventure and large-ensemble improvisation is matched by an embrace of traditional postbop. The operative question is the degree to which all this coheres, and whether listeners from those respective camps will be jarred away by all the stylistic puddle-jumping.
Hagans has engineered many of the successive themes in the first movement to collapse into themselves, to heighten the tension. After a staggering intro, there are echo effects, call-and-response from droll to tense, and suspenseful, increasingly dense rising waves. Pianist Vladyslav Sendecki’s pedalpoint and then simple, climbing riffs anchor blazing brass, a trope that will return many, many times here. In between, he takes a loose-limbed, allusively chromatic solo, the orchestra slowly rising in bursts behind him and then subsiding. An acidic moodiness settles in from there.
Massed swells give way to busy chatter and then a catchy, circling riff from the reeds as the second movement moves along. Baritone saxophonist Daniel Buch – who gets an amazing, crystalline, clarinet-like tone in the upper registers – hovers and then squirrels around. A slow, confident, brassy chorus of sorts recedes for bassist Ingmar Heller’s spare, dancing solo out.
The third movement begins with a brief, discordant duet between Sendecki and Heller that gains momentum with a brassy squall and rises to a blazing quasi-swing. Tenor saxophonist Peter Bolte’s smoky solo followed by trombonist Stefan Lotterman’s precise, dry humor are the high points. The bandleader’s wryly dancing solo at the end offers welcome amusement as well.
Hagans’ command of microtonal inflections in his solo intro to the fourth movement is impressive, to say the least, echoed by alto saxophonist Fiete Felsch as a more-of-less steady sway develops in movement four. Full stop for a shift into a shiny, intricately interwoven clave groove followed by a bit of cartoonish cacaphony, sardonically coalescing variations and a spacy Mario Doctor percussion solo.
The suite concludes with a contented sunset theme of sorts, Hagans using his mute, fading down and suddenly shifting to a funky, latin-tinged drive, a momentary breakdown and an eventual return to the overlays of the initial movement.