A Decade in the Making: Guitarist Phil Sargent Unveils 'Sons' – An Ode to Paternal Bonds

Article Contributed by Outside in Music | Published on Saturday, November 4, 2023

Guitarist and composer Phil Sargent is a force to be reckoned with in the Boston and New York music scenes. Described by All About Jazz as a musician who "is cognizant of the tradition but thinks outside of the box" and by JazzReviews.com as someone 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," Sargent has shared the stage with giants such as Dave Liebman, Jerry Bergonzi, and John Lockwood, as well as contemporary movers and shakers like Matt Wilson, Bob Moses, Phil Grenadier, and Yosuke Inoue, among others. Now, over a decade since his last release, Sargent returns as a bandleader with "Sons," an album that serves as both a tribute to and reflection on fatherhood and its transformative impact on him and his world.

Phil Sargent is a composer and performer as eclectic as he is prolific. With a profound mastery of and deep respect for the musical traditions of Jazz, Classical, Americana, and the rich tonalities and metric complexities of the Balkans, Sargent has carved out a distinctive artistic and educational identity. This reputation has made him a sought-after figure both by peers on the bandstand and by students in the practice room. Following his 2010 release "A New Day," Sargent's life took on a more vibrant hue, attributed not just to the album's acclaim. "I released my last original recording of music in 2010, a few months before my first son was born," Sargent recalls. "The experience of fatherhood, with all its struggles and joys, has propelled my music to a much deeper level." The rich and varied experience of becoming a father twice over inspired the creation of "Sons." Like many musicians, Sargent uses composition and improvisation to express the spectrum of life's experiences. Thus, this album acts like a journal, chronicling his journey of growth as a father, musician, and human being, especially through the tumultuous COVID and post-COVID era.

"Sons" marked a first for Sargent as he recorded not only with his signature electric guitar sound but also incorporated nylon and steel-string guitars into the mix. The synthesis of these three guitar timbres creates an immersive soundscape that captivates and intrigues listeners. As a bandleader and composer, Sargent strives for a unified ensemble sound rather than just providing a backdrop for soloists. The result is a cohesive musical statement that harnesses the creative energies and improvisational prowess of his band members, some of whom have collaborated with him for over twenty years, and directs them toward a singular vision. His seamless movement across genres and his natural affinity for mixed meters and expansive tonalities coalesce into a masterful blend of spontaneity and precision.

The album's title and its eponymous track, "Sons," stem from the life-altering events that inspired the project: the birth of Sargent's sons. "Sons is an unambiguous homage to my two boys," Sargent explains. "They were the inspiration for the song 'Sons,' so it seemed fitting to name the album after them as well."

The narrative arc of the album takes a slight detour with tracks like "Skyline" and "Breathe," which Sargent penned in 2012 during an inspired phase. On "A New Day," Sargent featured vocalist Aubrey Johnson, garnering critical acclaim. One admirer was Johnson's uncle, the legendary Lyle Mays, who reached out through Aubrey to express his admiration for Sargent's work, prompting him to write the two tracks to showcase Johnson on one of her albums. "I was incredibly honored and a bit daunted, so I got to work, and 'Skyline' and 'Breathe' were the outcomes," says Sargent. "Earning the respect of one of my heroes undoubtedly spurred my writing to new heights."

"Sons" is a testament to a master architect's vision. Just as an architect relies on a team to bring a blueprint to life, Sargent's album owes its breath to his longest-standing friends and collaborators, many of whom he has worked with for over two decades. The album features Jerry Sabatini on trumpet, Anastassiya Petrova on piano, Greg Loughman on bass, Mike Connors on drums, and Phil Sargent himself on guitars. Sargent's ensemble plays with a near-telepathic synergy. "Playing with them always feels like coming home," he says. Petrova, the newest addition, has earned high praise from Sargent for her commitment and exceptional talent, elevating the music to unprecedented levels.

With "Sons," Sargent captures the essence of the human experience—family—melding it into a musical expression of life's responsibilities and joys. He composes and performs not just for himself or his craft, but to communicate something meaningful to an audience that has inspired and shaped his journey.

"Sons" will be released on Higher Level Media on January 12, 2024.