Dave Hagelganz, Saxophone; Dru Heller, drums; Scott Steed, bass; Brian Ward, piano
WSU Recordings: 2014
Tenor saxophonist Dave Hagelganz leads a quartet of highly compatible musicians in this overdue self-titled debut album, joined by fellow professors Brian Ward (Washington State University) and Scott Steed (Eastern Washington University, Whitworth University), as well as young lion Dru Heller from Spokane. On the surface, this album appears as a humble offering to today’s jazz scene. What can six tunes by an acoustic quartet contribute to the current jazz atmosphere? Dave Hagelganz offers something hard to find in the world of jazz. The album is an artistic statement that reflects Hagelganz himself: direct, unpretentious, and genuine.
The opening track “Vepishta” is a good introduction to Hagelganz and pianist Ward. Though the melody is presented as a quartet, solos are presented in trio form, allowing both soloists’ lines to weave in and out of the harmony with complete freedom. “Integrity” and “Four Always” are the real introduction to the band with stretches of improvised melodic line, moving freely and without hesitation. Steed demonstrates this with ease, with unpredictably long lines and a singing tone. Hagelganz’s unmistakable and delicate sound shines through on the simple melody of “Four Always,” with a short walk to the bluesy side built into the form. “Bea” alternates between sections of pedal points (a nod to the likes of John Coltrane and McCoy Tyner) and more straight ahead changes, cohesively fusing both styles. The tribute piece “For Jobim” is more than a tribute in name. The tune is craftily written in the style of Antônio Carlos Jobim, melodically simple yet haunting.
The quartet engages listeners with a vibe of comfort and engagement that can only be presented by like-minded musicians sharing a musical understanding. Hagelganz does something remarkable in the span of six tunes—it gives us a glimpse into the soul of an artist.
Patrick Sheng ’08, ’10 MA is director of instrumental jazz studies at Long Beach City College.