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Friday, December 21, 2018

Catching up with Jon Irabagon

By Paul Acquaro

It's hard to keep up with all of the music that (fortunately) keeps coming out, and one musician who seems to be both tireless and ever inspired is saxophonist Jon Irabagon. I was first introduced to his playing by Stef's rview of the saxophonists' Foxy and the non-stop blast from that album hasn't slowed yet.

Jon Irabagon - Dr. Quixotic's Traveling Exotics (Irabbagast Recordings, 2018)  ****½

Dr. Quixotic's Traveling Exotics has been in my rotation list for a good long time now. From time to time I have gone in and checked it out, and much like the cabinet of curiosities that graces the cover art of this recording, the music within reveals a trove of highly individual tunes. A commonality is that all feature a top notch band of the saxophonist Jon Irabagon, trumpeter Tim Hagans, pianist Luis Perdomo, bassist Yasushi Nakamura, and drummer Rudy Royston.

The music does not necessarily fit the genre of free-jazz, but the mix of modern-jazz and the complex compositions makes for an intense listening experience, and the track titles make for a good read. The album opens with the cleverly twisted titled track "The Demon Barber of Fleet Week," where Irabagon introduces a circuitous melody and with barely pause, draws the listener in for several minutes. The band comes in with some harmonic force, giving each member a chance to shine. The follow up "Emotional Physics/The Things" hits hard from the get go with a strong hard-bop melody. Trumpeter Tim Hagan's is featured early on with a searing solo, followed by a crafted interchanges between Nakamura and the full band, and a melancholic solo from the leader. Later on, "Pretty Like North Dakota" features Perdomo with a delicate introduction on the piano, followed by a bass and drum tandem melody that floats down like a snow dusting over open fields. Closing out the recording is "Taipei Personality" which starts off with a lurching groove between the piano and drums into which Irabagon deftly inserts an incisive melody. Hagans joins, the two playing intertwining melodies that, if you listen to all at the same time can seriously alter your perception of time and space.

Excellent recording that you should discover if you haven't already.

Jon Irabagon/Joe Fiedler/Todd Neufeld - In Formation Network (Nuscope Recordings, 2017) ****

Of course, one of things that always impresses me about Jon Irabagon is his restlessness - expressed in his compositional prowess, in his unconventional humor (c'mon 'Taipai Personality', that's clever), and his comfort in just about any situation. Here, he plays with guitarist Todd Neufeld and trombonist Joe Fiedler. It's an unusual line-up, probably most famously presented on the News for Lulu recordings featuring saxophonist John Zorn, guitarist Bill Frisell, and trombonist George Lewis.  The music on News for Lulu was very much rooted in late 1950’s/1960’s hard-bop, the music here is less rooted, more shimmering, reminding me often of the wonderful trio of drummer Paul Motion with saxophonist Joe Lovano and Bill Frisell. 

Ok, so the name game has been played, what about the music you ask? It’s open ended, there are strong compositional elements throughout, as well as absolutely free passages where the trio engages in deep dialogs and even humorous interplay. The opening track “C.G.F.” is an example of all of these things. The group follows a composed series of melodies, before breaking into a three solo voices, interconnected but also following their own impulses. Irabagon has a prominent role, at least at first, racing through scales and arpeggios, shadowed by Fiedler, while Neufeld’s slightly distorted guitar cuts through at key moments with textual chords. On the follow up, “Piece of Old Sky”, the three begin with a moody melodic statement, that turn into haunting bellows from the horns. Neufeld drops metallic notes, like glitter, from time to time. The music feels composed here still, some of the interactions are just too well-timed, especially the near silence that cusps Fiedler’s solo. The track “Voodoo” has a lurching riff that is quite accessible, the trio breaks into mutual soloing and here Neufeld has some moments where he places some very Frisellian tonal clusters amid the horn chatter. The penultimate track “Mayday Hymn” is most alluring. The music is suspended by icy legato guitar tones, while Irabagon enages in a circular pattern, and Fiedler connects the two with long flowing lines. 

Dunmall, Paul / Jon Irabagon / Mark Sanders / Jim Bashford - The Rain Sessions (FMR, 2018) *****

Continuing to follow Irabagon, we eventually land in the UK and find him in a "double duo" free jazz setting, where he joins the exciting saxophonist Paul Dunmall and drummers Mark Sanford and Jim Bashford. The sax/drum line-up is a favorite of Dunmalls, he’s recorded wonderful duo albums with drummers Chris Corsano, Miles Levin, Tony Bianco (here and here), and I’m sure many more. This album is dedicated to Cecil Taylor and is a fully improvised session. 

The album begins with 'Part One' - it doesn’t seem like they are too interested in being clever with the song titles here, as 'Part One' through 'Part Four' suffices - with the drums and the two saxophonists going head to head with trills and short tones, pushing and prodding each other, until getting up to quick pace. The music is playful, but not without tension. By the four minute mark, they have already reached a peak, and back off. One of the saxophonists drops out as the other embarks on a solo laced with smart overblowing and big intervallic leaps (I am not sharp enough to tell who is who). Suddenly, the other saxophonist jumps back in, and the energy ramps up every further. The drummers are intense as well, filling the space - but not overdoing it - with rhythmic drive. “Part Two” begins with exploratory percussion, as they definitely needed to cool off from the intensity of the opening track, for over two minutes the drums set the mood, giving the solo sax that joins an open range to play in. The group builds in intensity again, with the Irabagon and Dunmall deftly darting, intensely intertwining, and wickedly weaving their musical ideas around each other and the percussion. 

The Rain Sessions is a fantastic free session that engages, thrills, and leaves the listener tantalizingly gutted. It’s fierce and fiery, but also well paced and given ample space to expand.  


Captain Hate said...

For whatever reason, Irabagon's concepts and performances don't seem to get the acclaim that I think they richly deserve. Maybe it's because listeners don't have the stamina or willingness to make it through Foxy or I Don't Hear Nothing But the Blues. But kudos to this site and reviewers for sporadically spotlighting him and his fertile musical mind.

Nick Metzger said...

Nice reviews Paul, the Rain Sessions is a particularly excellent recording. Great interplay by the double duo.