Phil Sargent "A New Day"
GUITARIST PHIL SARGENT’S ECLECTIC LYRICISM HIGHLIGHTS HIS NEW CD
“His compositional originality is matched by his incisive playing” —David Kane, Cadence Magazine
On his new CD, A New Day (June 1, Sargent Jazz Records), guitarist Phil Sargent makes consistently lyrical and inviting music, while exploring sophisticated compositions that blend elements of jazz, rock, and world music. Joining Sargent are bassist Greg Loughman, drummer Mike Connors, and vocalist Aubrey Johnson, as well as special guest pianists John Funkhouser and Brian Friedland who appear on one tune each.
Sargent’s 2002 debut CD For Carl, is a more conventional jazz recording, with traditional jazz instrumentation including saxophone and trombone. His interest in Balkan music and jazz-rock fusion is evident on the earlier release as well. In the years since that album, Sargent went through “a period of intense practice and development in both my playing and composing,” he says. “My tunes, for instance like ‘Gridlock,’ are more complex harmonically. I also worked hard to blend together all of my different influences. I think this new album really reflects more clearly who I am and where I’m coming from musically. And, after eight years, I think the level of playing is better as well.”
The core of the band, Sargent, Loughman, and Connors work together often; usually in other people’s bands. “In a strange way that makes us a better band,” Sargent says. “Working as sidemen, we’ve formed this brotherhood and deep knowledge of each other’s playing. We had to develop an empathy toward different approaches and a certain kind of humility to be able to play the music of other leaders, while at the same time keeping our own voices, so we can bring something personal to whatever we play. With Greg and Mike, it’s not just about chops, it’s much more about our connection, our musical relationship. We can just open the music up and get into this special zone. It doesn’t happen with everyone, but for me it happens all the time with these two.”
In 2008, while Sargent was with Brian Friedland’s group, Rhombus, vocalist Aubrey Johnson joined the band for a rehearsal. “I hadn’t worked much with singers,” Sargent says, “and to be honest I’d never considered writing for voice, but Aubrey just blew me away. The music was really pretty complex, but she just came in and sight-read the tunes, and she soloed with such confidence. I knew right away that I had to include her in my own band.”
Most of the tunes on the album were written with this particular quartet in mind and the compositions fit them like a glove. Some, like “New Day” and “Gridlock” are intricately constructed, others like “Light” and ‘Kelita” are lyrical and songlike. Each one seems perfectly suited for Johnson’s lovely transparent soprano and makes the most of her considerable facility with complex melodies and fast tempos. Sargent draws on influences from a broad spectrum of music, from modern jazz to rock to world music. Many of his beguiling melodies are undergirded by shifting meters and they develop over extended periods of time. Johnson’s ease and naturalness with the material and the deep communication among Sargent, Loughman, and Connors makes Sargent’s often tricky tunes flow naturally. The sound of the band invites listeners in and brings them along on each tune’s unique journey.
Sargent is one of a younger generation of guitarists like Ben Monder, Kurt Rosenwinkel, and Brad Shepik, who are taking jazz guitar in new directions. He makes full use of pedals and effects to get a personal sound, but the technology is never an end in itself - it is always in the service of an expressive and beautiful tone. Sargent is versed in jazz harmony and soloing, but he doesn’t shy away from influences outside of jazz. The result is sophisticated music that reaches out to listeners in countless ways. As a soloist, he builds well-proportioned, coherent statements that alternately charm and excite. On “A New Day,” he starts off with low, stealthy lines that gradually ascend into a brilliant, sun-drenched climax. “8/31” is an especially well-paced solo that is gloriously upbeat and joyful. “Powerplay” displays a harder rock edge. Sargent is also a sensitive accompanist, using intriguing tone colors to back Johnson on “Light” and in support of Loughman on “Kelita.”
The uncanny interplay among Sargent, Loughman, and Connors is a highlight of “Nobody Nothing” and “Gridlock,” but their strong interactions lie at the heart of each track. Loughman takes a marvelously articulate solo with a sharp, clear sound on “Kelita,” developing his melodic lines with a firm sense of purpose. Connors plays close attention to dynamics, powering up when the music asks him to, but playing with great subtlety and attention to detail, as well. Special guest pianists John Funkhouser and Brian Friedland have no trouble fitting in to the group dynamic; both have used the trio in their own bands at different times.
Guitarist Phil Sargent has been praised by Cadence magazine for a style that “ranges from ‘inside’ lyricism to hard-edged, riff-based, screaming rock and satisfying surreal textures aided by his intelligent use of electronics.” In addition to leading his own band, he is a member of the Sonic Explorers, the Bruno Raberg Nonet, the Rick DiMuzio Quintet, and the Brooke Sofferman Perspective. He’s recorded and composed for Iskar, which blends Balkan music and jazz, and the Industrious Noise Trio, which explores the boundaries of composition and free improvisation. He released his debut recording as a leader, For Carl, in 2002. He has also worked with Jerry Bergonzi, John Lockwood, Bob Moses, Matt Wilson, and many others. He studied at the University of New Hampshire and privately with guitarists Ben Monder and Brad Shepik.
On A New Day, Sargent knits together his varied musical experiences and interests to create his most personal and compelling album to date.