Artwork by John Lind Whitby
Artwork by John Lind Whitby
Written by Michael Saulman, posted by blog admin
Jim Hagen’s 2012 debut introduced the talents of this exceptional jazz guitarist to a national audience and his newest release, Jazzical, reinforces the promise and skill illustrated by the debut while showing considerable evolution in the same breath. The nine song collection doesn’t strictly confine itself to a jazz mode musically and shows how Hagen is capable of bringing a variety of musical elements into his wheelhouse without ever veering too far off course of its jazz roots. It also serves as a tribute, of sorts, to Hagen’s former bandmate and musical collaborator Rod Bennett, a vibes player extraordinaire whose tragic death as the result of a traffic accident fortunately didn’t curtail his valued inclusion on this inclusion on this collection. The real highlight of the release is Hagen’s exemplary guitar work, but he benefits from the inclusion of top notch vibes work, often from Bennett, as well as stellar keyboard and bass playing. The percussion on Jazzical, as well, takes the same top notch spot and complements the playing with welcome articulation.
“Pismo Beach” opens the album on a lovely note and shows off the band’s instrumental skills while lacking even a whiff of self indulgence. It’s cut to an ideal length as well and each of the song’s disparate sections never feel over-extended or overwrought. It’s incredibly stylized without ever striking a false note. “D-Tuna” takes a decidedly different approach thanks to its concentration on invoking atmosphere, but Hagen and his musical partners never forget to stress melody. It is, however, one of the album’s real moments of genuine experimentation and a testament to the talents of the players involved that it lines up very nicely with the remaining eight tracks. “Alexandra” bears some similarities to that track, but it shares more common with the other seven songs in the sense that it adheres tp a well defined sense of structure while still bearing a number of unmistakably individual marks.
“All Blues”, a Miles Davis cover, has a strong structure as well while still showing the flexibility to diverge from it and return without a fumble. The expected changes come at all the right points, but Hagen and his band mates are able to diverge from that structure and carve out specific notches in the piece that they stamp with their own signature style. “Jazzical”, the album’s title cut, might be the most illuminating moment on the release. Hagen’s classical background comes to the fore here thanks to his flawless guitar work, but he’s equally capable of weaving it with jazz influences into a seamless package. “Lazy Sunday” finishes off the release on a relaxed and lyrical note thanks to his guitar playing, but there’s a lot of factors contributing to the success of this closing curtain. Jazzical is more than just important genre release; there’s ample merit here to draw in casual fans as well thanks to Hagen’s melodic excellence.