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) ****
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)