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Jim Hagen - Jazzical (2017)




Written by Shannon Cowden, posted by blog admin

As tributes go, they seldom come finer than Jim Hagen’s nine song collection Jazzical. Hagen aims to honor the memory of his friend and former band mate vibes virtuoso Rod Bennett. Bennett, featured on a number of cuts, died unexpectedly when he was the victim of a hit and run incident and it ended a long standing musical relationship that dates practically to the time when Hagen first relocated to Southern California from his native Kansas City. Jazzical, however, is more than a record cut in memoriam. Hagen and his crack band mates navigate their way through a collection of originals and covers with the sort of confidence that one would naturally expect from musicians well versed in modern and traditional jazz. Their chops and pedigrees are mightily impressive. Hagen shows a penchant for making this material accessible on a wider level that we can likely ascribe to his early years playing in straight forward rock and progressive rock bands – he’s able to mix his jazz and classical oriented approach with other more popular forms of music.

He starts off on a smooth jazz footing. “Pismo Beach” is a tightly constructed and confidently played dialogue between guitar, keyboards, and vibes that has an introspective  quality, but also a melodically playful feel that brings listeners into its world immediately and keeps them there. “D-Tuna” is playfully titled and the band sounds quite inspired as they work out what initially seems like a more ambient, free form number into another tightly constructed melodic piece. There’s a definite difference in texture when you compare this track to many of the other songs on Jazzical, but it never taxes listeners patience and remains accessible throughout. The intelligence that goes into this piece further elevates it as it challenges the audience to follow its thread while still providing open and ample entertainment for any potential listener.

“On the Scene” has a light funky feel carried by some spunky keyboard lines and fine bass playing that nicely accentuates the melody. Tastefulness distinguishes many of Jazzical’s performances, but another key element of the package is how they combine fresh approaches with a textbook line of attack that crosses genre lines. “All Blues”, a cover from the iconic Miles Davis, has a more uniform approach while still more than doing justice to its composer’s legendary genius. The customary changes come, of course, but there’s a guiding intelligence behind the song that doesn’t rely solely on well worn tropes. Instead, there’s familiarity and freshness here that makes this one of Jazzical’s best performances. The title cut is an excellent match for the aforementioned tunes and follows it. Hagen expertly mixes his classical background with his jazz skills for a tune that incorporates semi unusual instrumentation with a solidly constructed arrangement. It’s one of the album’s best pieces and comes at a great time in the running order/ The final song “Lazy Sunday” brings down a slow, relaxed curtain for Jazzical that relies primarily on Hagen’s guitar. It closes the release with unquestionable grace and just the right amount of sophistication.

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