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Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Saxophone Round Up, Part 1: Jon Irabagon

By Paul Acquaro

Saxophonist Jon Irabagon is front and center on three new releases - two under his own Irabbagast imprint and one with drummer Barry Altschul's 3Dom Factor out on TUM records - and each one is an outpouring of music so completely different that it raises the possibility that there actually three different Irabagons running amok!

Jon Irabagon - Inaction is an Action (Irabbagast Records, 2015) ****

Adventurous music seekers, this is for you and some big noise cancelling headphones.

Starting with the cry of the Wookie on 'Revvv', Irabagon announces his deep dive into one of the smallest of the saxophone family, the sopranino. The follow up, 'Acrobat' is an exciting stretch of the instrument’s capabilities which ends with the saxophonist creating a wide range of percussive effects. 'What Have We Here' sounds like a trip to the petting zoo - an unbelievable array of sounds are drawn from the diminutive woodwind. A later track, 'Liquid Fire', is the most traditional, where the saxophonist plays a building circuitous melody that helps to both underscore both his musicianship and the versatility of the unusual instrument.

A very interesting experimental solo album and a sharp contrast to his co-release...

Jon Irabagon - Behind the Sky (Irabbagast Records, 2015) ****

If this blog was focused on traditional jazz, the star rating of 4 (or more) would be much easier to justify ... Behind the Sky is a slick modern jazz recording with tight compositions and top notch playing. It's all inside, and if nothing else, it showcases the talents of Irabagon as a composer and arranger (but it does much more!)

The band is pianist Luis Pedomo, bassist Yasushi Nakamura, and drummer Rudy Royston with a guest spot for storied trumpeter Tom Harrell on two tracks. The music is heartfelt and extremely accessible. For the battle hardened ears of the readers of this blog, I say wait for the long solo passage on the Latin tinged second track 'The Cost of Modern Living' before you jump to any conclusions on this album: it's burning.

The two tunes with Harrell are nicely done, having the second instrument adds to the tonal palette, of course. These melodic songs move along at a brisk pace with beautiful solo passages from Harrell and Nakamura (check out 'Still Water').

Behind the Sky is described by the artist as a rumination on loss and death of loved ones, but more concretely, it is a modern jazz treat.

Barry Altschul's 3Dom Factor - Tales of the Unforseen (TUM, 2015) ****½

Drummer Barry Altschul's latest trio recording, Tales of the Unforeseen, begins with 'As the Tale Begins', which starts like a engine coming to life. It rumbles, beginning slowly but picking up in force (if not in tempo) as the 26 minute journey wakes up. Altschul is impressionistic and melodic on the drums, you can feel the pulse in his efficiently textural approach. Bassist Joe Fonda, who has a long working relationship with the drummer, finds all the right places to offer his support.

The musical conversation between Irabagon and Altschul can be humorous (like around the 6 minute mark), the two exchanging sounds while Fonda lays out, as well as be deadly serious, such as high point they reach in the middle of the track. The other tracks on the album are shorter. A 'Tale of Monk: Ask me now' for example does sport a Monkish sheen and honors its namesake in an evocative five minutes. 'The Tale Continues' is an interlude that features Fonda solo for the opening duration. Altschul is featured in 'A Drummers Tale’ and the tale end on the quiet side, with Irabagon switching to flute.

This is one my albums of the year - it has all the ingredients and bakes it into a fine treat. (Read Stefan Woods' earlier review)


joe.po said...

I know Barry Altschul's 3Dom Factor - Tales of the Unknown as Tales of the UNFORESEEN .. different album/name or just a mistake in your post?

Anonymous said...

Mark says...
"each one is an outpouring of music so completely different that it raises the possibility that there actually three different Irabagons running amok" and therein lies my problem with his playing. Undoubtedly has all the technique which he seemingly easily adapts to different settings but hasn't, to my ears at least, got an individual voice that ever emerges from below the surface impact

Paul said...

Just a mistake. Thanks for the correction.

vacuumtube1954 said...

Good morning Paul,

Thanks for the review. I enjoying reading them. I am waiting for my 3Dom Factor cd to arrive. I think the USPS has misplaced it. I hope it will arrive soon.

Jon is a wonderful sax player.

Kevin said...

If someone has prodigious technique in a wide range of styles they might be judged as having no individual voice? Sheesh, you can't win as a musician. Listen to "Inaction is an Action". Does the music sound good to your ears? Forget about the notion of "an individual voice" whatever abstraction that really is. He plays his ass off on that recording and it is as "outside" as can be. I think we need to do more "blindfold" listening, it helps to put aside preconceptions that can get in the way of hearing. Too much "meta" abstraction bullshit in reviews, listen to the music, does it engage you? Anything beyond that quickly becomes problematic. If you know Irabagon from MOPDTK and Mary Halvorson's quintet, septet and octet then you should already know the obvious, i.e., that Irabagon has a deep respect for and love of the tradition and that his "outside" explorations grow directly out of that love and respect. I won't buy "Behind the Sky", I personally don't enjoy the straighter stuff but more power to him, not everyone can play both inside and outside and play them well.