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Foxy is tenor saxophonist Jon Irabagon's fourth album as leader: a 78-minute, uninterrupted trio performance, exploring the possibilities of the 16-bar form through extended improvisation. Put another way, Foxy is a great big belly-laugh of an album; a stunning physical feat; a constantly shifting musical achievement; an adventure; and a raw and visceral performance. And it's got great cover arta take on Sonny Rollins
' Way Out West (Contemporary, 1957), featuring a louche Irabagon and a succession of undignified additions to the steer skull.
Foxy is divided into 12 tracksperhaps, as the rather optimistically-titled "Foxy (Radio Edit)" suggests, to make it easier to get some airplay. There is no silence between tracks. Each one moves imperceptibly into the next, but changes in mood or tempo soon become apparent and suggest that the editing is not simply arbitrary.
"Foxy" gradually fades in to find the trio already in full flight. From that point on there's no letup in energy or enthusiasm. Irabagon and drummer Barry Altschul
are constantly at the front of the mix, continuously in motion, relentlessly driving each other on. Altschul's percussion is masterful, a tidal wave of sounds, while Irabagon blows his sax with a seemingly inexhaustible energy and endless variation. Bassist Peter Brendler
is the album's unsung hero; without his subtly shifting bass lines anchoring the sound, and navigating the changes in tempo and rhythm, the performance would never scale the heights it does. It's Brendler, in particular, who makes "Unorthodoxy" swing.
However, it's very much Irabagon's album. His tenor playing is far closer to his work on Puttin' On The Ritz' White Light, White Heat (Hot Cup records, 2010) than his own The Observer (Concord Music Group, 2009). He's powerful, inventive and entertaining, as he moves through free jazz, solid blues, brief snatches of standards and honking riffssometimes sounding like John Coltrane
. One thing he doesn't do is ballads; he eases off a little on "Boxy," but it's a relative term.
Standards come and go swiftly: a hint of "Twisted" on "Foxy," "Let's Fall In Love" on "Tsetse." "Epoxy" features a few bars of "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered," and a few more of "Let It Snow." Then there's "Roxy," where Irabagon starts up Charlie Parker
's "Now's The Time" and suddenly locks into a three-note riff, which he plays solidly for the next six minutes. Once or twice it sounds as if Irabagon's respiratory power might be waning, but it never happens, and Altschul's militaristic drumming spurs him on as he repeats the riff again and again.
Then, suddenly, with the trio still blowing hard on "Moxie," the album ends. The abruptness of the ending seems like a challenge: "Follow that." Foxy is a powerhouse recording of imagination and humor from a masterful trio. The only response to that challenge can be "How?"