JWQ Showcase 2017

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

USA: Alex Sipiagin & Dave Kikoski-Bonnie and Clyde(2017)

Bonnie And Clyde, a set of original music inspired by ten unique pairs of characters, is the latest accomplishment in the very productive and creative career of arranger-composer-trumpeter Dave Lisik. A Canadian who taught high school in Winnipeg, Canada and college in Memphis, Tennessee, Lisik has been a resident of Wellington, New Zealand since 2010 where he teaches at the New Zealand School of Music and has been a very active part of the jazz and creative music scene.

While Lisik has written for many larger ensembles, symphony orchestras and his own quintet in his career (with over 450 compositions), Bonnie and Clyde features the duo of trumpeter Alex Sipiagin and pianist Dave Kikoski interpreting his music. Sipiagin, along with Bob Sheppard, had been the principal soloist on Lisik’s 2011 jazz orchestra record Walkabout – A Place For Visions. In 2014, Lisik’s quintet recording Machaut Man and a Superman Hat featured Sipiagin and tenor-saxophonist Donny McCaslin along with the rhythm section of the Mingus Big Band which included Dave Kikoski.
“Alex and Dave are both incredible players, technical masters and artists on a really high level,” says Dave Lisik. “As a trumpet player I have a particular appreciation for Alex's ability on the instrument but his inventiveness really stands out for me, even when compared to some of the other top trumpeters playing today. Music just flows out of both of these guys. Alex was in New Zealand for the national jazz workshops in January 2016 and he was already planning some duo gigs with Dave Kikoski. Rather than just writing random tunes for them, it seemed more interesting, given the two-player format, to create a collection of new tunes based on famous pairs from history.”

The adventurous music on Bonnie and Clyde was a challenge for the two players but they quickly came up with fresh and inventive ideas that perfectly fit the pieces. “A few of the tunes start with chord progressions like standards, others are more modern harmonically, and a few are based on ostinatos with melodies and no harmonic progression. It is easy to worry about there not being enough variety with only two instruments but then, as always happens with players at this level, they took the music to places that I had not imagined. The improvisations and interplay are so interesting that it is fun for me to hear what they did with my pieces.”

Bonnie and Clyde begins with “Kourke ‘N Spock,” named after Captain James T. Kirk and Mr. Spock from Star Trek. “The odd spelling of Kourke is a nod to the way that Alex, with his Russian accent, pronounces Kirk. It’s identical to how the Russian Star Trek character Pavel Chekov said it, which I found humorous.” The wide intervals played by Sipiagin somehow sounds effortless and relaxed, giving this piece a futuristic feel.

“Samneric,” the twin boys Sam and Eric from Lord Of The Flies who were so close that they melded into one character. This dramatic performance has Alex Sipiagin and Dave Kikoski engaging in dramatic interplay as they play off of each other’s ideas throughout the piece.

“Antony and Cleopatra,” historic figures who were immortalized by Shakespeare, are musically portrayed by Sipiagin (who hints at the melancholy of Miles Davis on this piece even during his faster runs) and Kikoski, who takes an extended solo filled with twists and turns.

“Porgy and Bess,” the lead characters in George Gershwin’s famed folk opera, are saluted in a thoughtful piece that is a bit nostalgic.

“Henson and Oz” celebrates the creative partnership of Jim Henson and Frank Oz who together created Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy and Ernie and Bert. This high energy romp has Sipiagin and Kikoski engaging in playful moments and fiery stretches that jump around with the energy of a children’s television show. About this track Lisik says, “Jim Henson and Frank Oz were one of the most important modern comedy duos. Henson passed unexpectedly in 1990 and Frank Oz eulogizing Jim Henson at his memorial service is one of the most touching moments I’ve seen and a wonderful tribute to the relationship between these two men.


“Bonnie and Clyde” is for the Depression era criminals Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow who were depicted in a colorful movie of the same name. Lisik’s music is worthy of a memorable chase scene.

“Arwen and Aragorn” is dedicated to two characters from the Lord Of The Rings, a saga that is particularly popular in New Zealand where the films were shot. The particularly lovely chord progression of this romantic jazz waltz is borrowed from “Fairy Tale” by Bob Washut, Lisik’s former teacher at the University of Northern Iowa.

The cat and mouse interplay throughout “Holmes and Watson” is perfect for a tribute to Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. The whimsical yet mysterious piece conjures up the image of a Sherlock Holmes tale.

“Rosencrantz and Guildenstern” are Shakespearean characters from Hamlet. On this performance and briefly elsewhere, Dave Kikoski is heard on Fender Rhodes, sometimes playing electric and acoustic pianos together with one hand on each. The unisons and general theme on this original are quirky, witty and difficult to predict.

Bonnie and Clyde concludes with “Fred And Ginger,” a warm ballad dedicated to Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Too much praise cannot be given to the two musicians who interact spontaneously throughout the ten pieces with the same confidence and relaxed creativity that they would have displayed if they had been stretching out on much more familiar standards.

Dave Lisik became involved in music early in his life. After playing organ for five years, he switched to trumpet in sixth grade, performing regularly in his school bands. “Both of my junior high and high school band directors were trumpet players so I'm sure that helped me.” Lisik developed quickly and, while still in high school, he performed for two years in the big band at the University of Manitoba. Always interested in writing, he experimented with electroacoustic music while in high school and mostly wrote classical music while in college, but gained experience writing jazz before and during his doctoral study at the University of Memphis. “I wrote for the guest artists who came to the school including Marvin Stamm, Bill Mays, Luis Bonilla, Paul Hanson, Carl Allen, and Kirk Whalum. Once my dissertation was finished, Luis was particularly encouraging and helpful in getting players to record my first big band CD.” Among those jazz composers and arrangers whose music inspired him early on were Bob Brookmeyer, Jim McNeely, Maria Schneider and Thad Jones.

In addition to teaching at the New Zealand School of Music in Wellington, Lisik co-directs the New Zealand Youth Jazz Orchestra, founded and produces the NZSM Jazz Festival, and is a trustee of the New Zealand Jazz Foundation. During the past year he has co-written with Eric Allen the book 50 Years at the Village Vanguard: Thad Jones, Mel Lewis and the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra. He has also recorded many inventive CDs of his music with several new projects scheduled to be coming out in the near future.

For the future, Dave Lisik says, “I hope to keep writing music for inspiring performers, both in classical music and jazz. I want there always to be some urgency to evolve and keep getting better rather than having my projects be too similar.” Bonnie and Clyde, which is unlike any of Dave Lisik’s previous recordings, succeeds at being fresh, new and full of inventive music.

Scott Yanow, jazz author/historian and author of 11 books including Trumpet Kings and Jazz On Record 1917-76