|Were it not for the go-it-alone independent labels, virtually unknown players would not have an outlet to share their untapped talents. Cadence Jazz Records, long a voice for obscure artists, continues to follow their credo, with one of the most recent pleasures being the debut from saxophonist John Hagen. Over the last three decades, Hagen has appeared on a variety of sessions, perhaps most notably with William Parker (Through Acceptance Of The Mystery Peace) and John Zorn's Microscopic Septet (Take The Z Train). As a reedist, Hagen is comfortable on tenor, alto, and soprano, garnering an individual sound on each. His technical approach makes the most of space, preferring curt, staccato phrases that urge tension, as opposed to the series of arpeggios favored by a majority of his peers.
Segments consists of a series of twelve melodic sketches that serve as the backbone for group improvisations. As Hagen notes, the "segments" are "melodic lines used as places of departure and arrival" that appear singularly or in combination with others within the same performance. As a result, the "compositions" are very loose and structurally fluid, with rhythm being the most important factor. Musician-wise, the record is split between two collectives: A trio including bassist Shanir Blumenkranz and drummer Todd Capp and a quartet featuring pianist Denman Maroney, bassist Mark Dresser, and drummer Gerry Hemingway. While both groups inspire Hagen, one of the most outstanding performances is "Colloquial", an angular duet between Hagen and Maroney, with each of the partners conversing as though discussing the events of the day.
The record begins with "Material Witness" (segment 10), the lengthiest piece of the record with undulating currents by Blumenkranz's muscular bass and Capp's swishing drums that stir Hagen's pulse, leading the saxophonist to spew generous note clusters, sometimes as bright bursts, others as sinewy, melodic runs. This trio cuts to looser terrain on "Flight Deck/Insomnia", highlighted by Blumenkranz's spiky arco jousts, "Sight Unseen" (segments 14 & 16), with Hagen's alto producing a spirited edge amidst the rhythm section's urgency, and "Open All Night" (segment 12), another alto foray coaxed by Capp's slippery brushwork. Finally, "Up At Ingo's" (segments 9 & 2), presents perhaps the most interesting journey for the trio, with both Capp and Blumenkranz using the bodies of their instruments as percussive devices to add texture to the group's sound.
Hagen demonstrates his versatility on the "inside" or "impressionistic" moments that occur under Maroney, Dresser, and Hemingway's watch. To begin with, the all-too-brief, "Mr. Hodges/Mr. Webster" and "Eponymy" (segment 3) prompt gorgeous tenor lines that soar over the supple flow of the accompanying musicians. Maroney proves to be quite a versatile player here (for those that might have had a limited exposure to him) with his languid lines floating and cushioning Hagen's tenor amidst Dresser's throbbing bass and Hemingway's coloristic drums on the jazzy "No Waiting" (segment 6). Ditto both the straight-ahead ballad "Shorter" (segment 5) and the lengthier "Airborne" (segments 8 & 4), which present Hagen's most elegant tenor work of the program. Of final note is the skittish, classically tinged "Second Viennese School—Spring Break" (segment 11), where Hagen's soprano intersects with Maroney's dancing pianisms and Dresser's alternating arco and pizzicato, as well as with Hemingway's piquant brushes.
To sum up, Segments is a decades-overdue debut that presents an evenly paced and well-assembled program from yet another unheard creative artist.