Here's yet another example of how the early 21st Century is becoming a golden age for jazz composition. Alex Sipiagin was thoroughly steeped in the classical music foundations of his native Russia before earning his stateside niche as a trumpeter/flugelhorn player in the Mingus and Dave Holland big bands. All three influences inform Out of the Circle: the exacting grandeur of the Russian romantics, Holland's wry, knotty melodies and Mingus's piquant horn voicings (though Sipiagin's are more pastel-soft).
More ambitious — larger ensemble, more complicated arrangements — than Sipiagin's previous outings on Criss Cross, Out of the Circle requires repeated listens in order to glean its array of innovative wrinkles, textures and sonic crevices. Distinctive stylists such as trombonist Robin Eubanks, saxophonist Donny McCaslin, guitarist Adam Rogers and a rhythm section of drummer Antonio Sanchez and bassist Scott Colley don't bust out with breathtaking solos so much as flex their agility and teamwork on arrangements that require split-second timing (as on the layered, chamber-like splendor of “Echoes of Thought”), chromatic bittersweetness (“Flash”) and an innate sensitivity for the rough-and-tender tug-and-caress coursing through the delicate “Syn.”
Sipiagin also deploys accordionist Gil Goldstein and vocalist Monday Michiru (his wife) sparingly, but to maximum effect. The closing number, “Sketches of Myself,” is a daring gamble, matching soft piano, Michiru's vocal and a quirky, nearly off-putting electronic effect together in a measured, R&B-inflected sway that slowly gathers giddy steam and blossoms into a beautiful climax, gilded by Sipiagin's elegant trumpet solo at the three-minute mark, then takes a slightly different tack and climaxes again three minutes later.