Nov 19th 2023

The Sargent is back

by Michael Johnson

Michael Johnson is a music critic with particular interest in piano. 

Johnson worked as a reporter and editor in New York, Moscow, Paris and London over his journalism career. He covered European technology for Business Week for five years, and served nine years as chief editor of International Management magazine and was chief editor of the French technology weekly 01 Informatique. He also spent four years as Moscow correspondent of The Associated Press. He is the author of five books.

Michael Johnson is based in Bordeaux. Besides English and French he is also fluent in Russian.

You can order Michael Johnson's most recent book, a bilingual book, French and English, with drawings by Johnson:

“Portraitures and caricatures:  Conductors, Pianist, Composers”

 here.

Boston-based guitarist, band leader and composer Phil Sargent is not about churning out endless CDs. In fact his ten-year recording gap, just ended, had his fans wondering where he was. But in New York and Boston, he tells me, he has never stopped working with other groups while composing and actively teaching young and mature talent. Although not always visible, he seems to be a confirmed workaholic, even practicing five hours a day. Yes, virtuosos also need to practice.

And now he is back. His new CD, “Sons” (distributed by CD Baby and available on some 300 digital platforms worldwide), explains his unusual career. The birth of his boys, Finnegan and Liam, now 13 and 11, changed his trajectory overnight.  Raising them, he told me in an interview, meant experiencing “pain, struggle and extreme joy -- it was a real treat to do this one.”

His new life led to a collection of nine of his songs, and the album is dedicated to his sons and his Irish-American wife Kelly . His song “Sons” on track eight tells the story of the boys’ birth and growth. Unlike most of the hard-driving album, it is lyrical, quiet and sweet – telling the emotional story of the two young sons.

sargent
Phil Sargent

 

He often relies on emotions to find the sound he wants. He recalls that getting into the fatherhood role inspired the album and, as he confided to one interviewer, “propelled my music to a much deeper level”.

Sargent mixes his soaring virtuoso turns with melodic lines that please and surprise.

His group brings together leading talents, some of whom he has worked with for over 20 years. They fit his commitment to originality rather than imitation. The telepathy among friends is obvious as they communicate with each other in their improvisations. “We’re not trying to sound like anyone else,” he tells me. “That’s a self-defeating prophecy. We grow a lot together.”

Improvisation is a recurring strength on the CD, seemingly free-form but Sargent insists “it also has to make sense”. On all nine tracks, Sargent’s written score alternates with passages to set the players free, creating contrasts of spontaneity and precision. Sargent himself is the driving force, switching from his standard electric guitar to nylon and steel-string instruments. One critic says the three timbres “create an immersive soundscape that captivates and intrigues” his fans.

A memorable departure on the album is the compositions he wrote for the late Lyle Mays, the uncle of marvelous vocalist Aubrey Johnson on “Skyline” and “Breathe”. Mays had asked Sargent to write for him after hearing Sargent’s work elsewhere.

In this clip, accessible on Youtube, Sargent and his quartet perform “Skyline”:

 

He says he was “a bit daunted” to accept the Mays challenge, leaving him “terrified”. But the two songs fully satisfied Mays’ hopes. “It was great to have the respect of one of my heroes and it definitely pushed my writing into new places,” Sargent says in a PR release for the launch.

In his search for like-minded collaborators, he has nothing against working with women of talent. The discovery of pianist Anasstasiya Petrova, a Berklee College of Music graduate, amazed Sargent. She was born and raised in Kazakhstan, formerly one of the 15 republics of the former Soviet Union, and now is a mature musician with easy grasp of the American jazz idiom. She brings a fluency and sparkle to both of the Mays-inspired tracks.

The players on the new album are well-known regulars in Boston and New York: Jerry Sabatini on trumpet for two tracks (“Life” and Bivawack”) Anastassiya Petrova on piano, Greg Loughman at the double bass and veteran Mike Connors on drums and percussion.

 

END

 

 


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