I’ve been a fan of trumpeter Tim Hagans for over a decade. His album Animation/Imagination, made in collaboration with producer Bob Belden, was and remains an astonishing achievement, a blend of fierce, taut ensemble jazz, raw funk, and hardcore drum ‘n’ bass that manages to synthesize all its elements without diluting any of them. Hagans blows knuckle-poppingly quick lines with lung-bursting ferocity and power, at times literally screaming through the horn. Behind him, the band saw and raised his bid time after time—Billy Kilson was basically the swinging-est grindcore drummer ever, crossing late ’60s Tony Williams with late ’80s Mick Harris, keeping pace with the frantic breaks of DJs Kingsize and Smash. The album’s liner notes paid explicit homage to Miles Davis‘s Bitches Brew, but On the Corner was a more accurate point of comparison—this was nerve-jangling, almost hostile stuff (one track was called “Are You Threatening Me?” and another “I Heard You Were Dropped”), musicians pushing themselves and each other to their limits and beyond, but without indulging in free jazz cliché, and engaging with music that people outside Jazzworld were actually dancing to, without pandering. The group followed this up with a live album, Re-Animation Live!, which was slightly looser but every bit as energetic and challenging. I kept waiting for more, but nothing emerged for years. I had a conversation with Belden one day in the midtown Manhattan studio where I was studying audio engineering, and he told me they were recording a third album that was being funded by a restaurant owner or some weird thing, but it never appeared. Then, this year, they finally released a follow-up—Asiento, a live mutation of Bitches Brew recorded at Avery Fisher Hall in 2006. Respectful to the original, it nevertheless wandered into some almost Bill Laswell-ish places, the rejiggered band (now featuring Guy Licata on drums alongside keyboardist Scott Kinsey, bassist Matt Garrison and DJ Logic) shifting from ambient haze to powerful grooves and back seemingly at the snap of a finger.
The Moon is Waiting (buy it from Amazon) is very different from the work of the Animation band. It’s a stripped-down ensemble: Hagans on trumpet, Vic Juris on guitar, Rufus Reid on bass and Jukkis Uotila on drums (and piano on “Get Outside,” the title of which is a command the musicians obey with pleasure). All the pieces are by Hagans, but they come from a variety of places—the first three tracks, “Ornette’s Waking Dream of a Woman,” “The Moon is Waiting” and “Get Outside,” were commissioned by a dance ensemble, while “Wailing Trees” is a dedication to Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko, and “Boo” was first recorded with the Norrbotten Big Band, a Swedish group Hagans has been working with (as artistic director) since 1996. Still, all the compositions seem perfectly suited to this tight-knit, intensely focused group.
Hagans and Uotila are working in partnership throughout. Drums and rhythm are crucial to his concept; he plays a rock ‘n’ roll style of trumpet in some ways, and this requires a heavy backbeat, similar to the one heard on Miles’s A Tribute to Jack Johnson. Uotila provides this, whether it’s on the hard-charging “First Jazz” (on which the two men actually duet) or the bluesy “Boo.” Juris’s guitar stings, occasionally erupting into thorny distortion, and Reid’s upright bass has a thick Seventies tone, like Charlie Haden had on Keith Jarrett‘s Impulse! albums, or on Ornette Coleman‘s Science Fiction and Broken Shadows. Even on the ballads, “What’ll I Tell Her Tonight” and the swinging “Things Happen in a Convertible,” there’s a seething energy that makes you think things could go wild any second. This may not be as aggressive a record as Animation/Imagination, but that’s long out of print anyway—Blue Note had no idea what to do with it. Tim Hagans is one of the wildest trumpeters out there, and he deserves your attention.