NEW YORK CITY, N.Y. – Guitarist and composer Phil Sargent is a name to be reckoned with in the Boston and New York music scenes. Described as a musician who “is cognizant of the tradition but thinks outside of the box” (All About Jazz) and who “incorporates melodic hooks into the mix, where superior technique, cunning interactions, memorable song forms, and seething solo jaunts attain a near-flawless symmetrical presence” (JazzReviews.com), Sargent has shared the stage with the likes of giants such as Dave Liebman, Jerry Bergonzi, and John Lockwood, to contemporary earthshakers such as Matt Wilson, Bob Moses, Phil Grenadier, and Yosuke Inoue, among others. Now, over a decade since his previous release, Sargent once more takes the stage and studio as a bandleader with Sons, an album that stands both as a tribute to and reflection on fatherhood and how it has transformed him and his world.
Phil Sargent is a composer and performer who is as eclectic as he is prolific. With a mastery of and deep admiration for the musical traditions stemming from Jazz, Classical, Americana, and the rich tonalities and metric approach of the Balkans, Sargent has developed a distinctive identity as an artist and educator that has led him to be sought after full-time, both by peers on the bandstand and by students in the practice room. Following his 2010 release A New Day, Sargent’s world changed to a more vibrant and more jubilant one than he’d ever known possible, and it was not merely due to the acclaim the album had received. “I released my last original recording of music in 2010 a few months before my [first] son was born,” Sargent says. “The experience of being a father (both the struggle and joy) has pushed my music to a much deeper place.” It is this wondrously variegated experience of becoming a father – not once, but twice – that inspired and spurred on the creation of his upcoming album, Sons. Like most musicians, Sargent uses composition and improvisation as a form of expression and an outlet for the highs and lows. This album then acts in many ways like a journal, documenting the process of learning and growing as a father, as a musician, and as a human being, particularly in the disorientingly fluid COVID and post-COVID landscape of the past few years.
Musically, Sons presented a first for Sargent, as he not only recorded with his steadfast electric guitar sound, but also contributed his nylon and steel-string guitars to the session. The resulting synthesis of the three timbres presents a distinctly enveloping soundscape that finds listeners mesmerized and intrigued. As a bandleader and composer, Sargent emphasizes the pursuit of creating a single ensemble sound. Like the tradition of landmark composers before him, Sargent is more interested in creating a cohesive sonic statement rather than merely having a chart for soloists to play over. The end result is music that utilizes the powerfully creative personalities and improvisations of his long-standing band members of over twenty years and channels them in specific directions. Add to that Sargent’s seamless overflow from genre to genre and his effortless flair for mixed meter and broad tonalities and what one receives is a masterful synergy of spontaneity and structure.
The title of the album, as well as the track after which it is named, is taken from the experiences that inspired the album itself: the birth of Sargent’s sons. Rightly lauded as a world-changing two events by the guitarist, the track “Sons” was written as an ode to the boys who changed his life and enriched his existence. “Sons is a not-so-subtle shout out to my two boys,” Sargent explains. “They were the inspiration for the song “Sons”, so it seemed like a no-brainer to name the album after them too.”
The album’s storytelling arc deviates somewhat with the tracks “Skyline” and “Breathe”, which were both written in 2012 during a moment in which the stars seemed to align for Sargent. On his previous album, A New Day, Sargent featured the vocalist Aubrey Johnson and their collaboration was critically received. One of the individuals who greatly admired Sargent’s approach and collaboration on that album was Johnson’s uncle – who happened to be the late great Lyle Mays. Mays contacted Sargent through Aubrey Johnson saying he was so impressed by his compositions and performance that he asked him to compose two pieces to feature Johnson on an album of hers. “Needless to say, I was blown away and terrified, so I got started and “Skyline” and “Breathe” were the result,” Sargent says. “It was great to have the respect of one of my heroes and it definitely pushed my writing into new places.”
The brilliance contained on Sons is one of a master architect drawing the most ingenious of plans. Just like an architect, it takes a team to bring the concept to life and to build the lasting monument. Sargent’s album was brought to life by some of his longest-standing friends and collaborators, many of whom he has been collaborating with for over two decades. The personnel on Sons comprises Jerry Sabatini on trumpet, Anastassiya Petrova on piano, Greg Loughman on bass, Mike Connors on drum set, and the bandleader himself, Phil Sargent, on guitars. Sargent lauds each of his peers’ performances on this record. “Loughman, Connors, Sabatini and I have been playing in each others’ bands since 2000 or 2001 and the collaboration is downright telepathic,” he says. “Playing with them is always like coming home.” Of Petrova, the newest member of his ensemble, he has only praise: “Petrova absolutely blew me away. Not only with her incredible playing, but with her commitment to the music,” Sargent says. “She brought it to a level that can only be reached not only with that kind of talent, but with the equally important drive to get inside the music.”
With Sons, Sargent makes emotively tangible that which is held deeply at the center of the human experience: family. To grow and create, to provide and protect, to wrestle and raise up – all this is held testimonial within the vast textural landscapes and sweeping genre fluidity of Sons. Sargent composes and plays not merely for himself and for his music, but because he has something worthwhile to say, and an audience worthwhile to say it to who inspired it all to begin with.
Sons releases on Higher Level Media on January 12, 2024.