Artwork by John Lind Whitby
Written by Ed Price, posted by blog admin
Jim Hagen’s 2017 release Jazzical is both an outstanding sophomore effort coming on the heels of his 2012 debut as well as a self-consciously styled tribute to his former musical partner vibes player Rod Bennett who died tragically as a result of a hit and run accident. The Kansas City native has a strong background din both jazz and classical music and it enables him to move freely from original compositions (like the album’s title track) as well as incorporating solid standards like the Miles Davis’ classic “All Blues”. Despite the fact that this is quite deliberately styled as a tribute to Hagen’s fallen comrade, the mood is often anything but somber and Bennett’s playing is prominently featured. The nine songs on Jazzical invoke a variety of moods with class, tastefulness, and musical distinction.
One of the originals on the album opens Jazzical quite nicely. “Pismo Beach” has a slightly elegiac tinge to its sound, but it also has an underrated playful edge as you can audibly hear some of the happiness contained within the individual performances. Hagen’s guitar is a little more dominant here than it is on other tracks. The keyboards, vibes, and guitar strike up a seamless marriage from the outset and find just the right approach for this performance so that it appeals to both longtime jazz fans and listeners familiar with a variety of moods and approaches. His cover of the Bossa Nova classic “Manha de Carnaval” is particularly fleet footed and never over stresses its tempo and stylistic origins. It is surely a mark of a first rate musical talent when a player can take a recognized standard and refashion it in his or her own image. Hagen does that here and superbly well. “D-Tuna”, another original, has interesting construction and a more high flown feel than the first two songs. This feels more experimental, jammy somehow, and it’s quite compelling to hear Hagen and his collaborators bring this together with such style.
“All Blues”, the aforementioned Miles Davis cover, has a decidedly straight forward feel in comparison. The familiar tropes of the genre are musically present and the pleasing sense of inevitability that results from hearing this track makes it one of Jazzical’s more memorable cuts. It’s an excellent prelude to the album’s title song and this number gives Hagen a chance to show off his command over various musical backgrounds without ever sounding incongruous or showy. Bennett, in particular, distinguishes himself with a first rate vibes solo that, in light of his tragic end, possesses a near spectral quality. The album’s finale, “Lazy Sunday”, concludes Hagen’s second album on a decidedly relaxed note, but there’s also some hints of melancholy that come throughout while never dragging the song’s mood down into unhappiness or despair. Jazzical is a major work from an impressive musician who sounds like he’s at or nearing the peak of his powers.