The world is moving at an increasingly rapid pace, so it's not surprising that the impact of influential artists can be heard more immediately. New York-based altoist Aaron Irwin demonstrated plenty of promise with his independently released 2004 debut, Wide Awake. The mature approach to improvisation that belied his young age is still present on Into the Light, but so too is the need to wear his influences a little less vividly on his sleeve.
With guitarist Ryan Scott mining Bill Frisell territory and Irwin opening the disc with a deconstructive approach to "All the Things You Are, the reference to drummer Paul Motian's longstanding trio with Frisell and saxophonist Joe Lovano is perhaps a little too obvious. Still, in a full quartet featuring bassist Matt Clohesy and drummer Greg Ritchie, Irwin remains reverential rather than solely imitative.
Ritchie's light and textural approach may speak of Motian, but he's also more direct on tunes like Irwin's "Fumes one of five to also feature guest Rich Perry on tenor. Scott's tone is warm but not as densly lush as Frisell's; when he adds distortion to the mix, he adopts a darker tone. Still, his accompaniment to Irwin's muscular yet lyrical solo bears Frisell's laconic signature, long tones resonating as he layers other notes to build shifting chords that navigate Irwin's changes. The ethereal sustained chords that support Irwin's gentle and slightly folksy "In the 90's are even closer to Frisell's arpeggiated approach, but less idiosyncratically so.
The title track moves between a modern bop-like theme and solo segments that break down into alto and tenor duets with Clohesy. Perry works well with Irwin, especially on Cole Porter's "So in Love, where the two introduce the tune unaccompanied, winding their way around the familiar theme so that when first Clohesy, then Ritchie and Scott enter, a collaborative take is already firmly established. The same approach applies to Irwin's rubato "The Point though, in this case, everyone's in the pool at once.
Irwin is the sole horn on "The Anti-Hero, where a bass-held pedal tone leads into a rocky "B section that, once the solos begin, provides the basis for Scott's effected and whammy barred lead. The album closes with a relatively under-covered Thelonious Monk tune, "Ugly Beauty, featuring a melodic spot from Clohesy and Irwin's thematic approach to building solos that remain connected to the core of the song.
An enjoyable sophomore effort, Into the Light reveals clear progress for Irwin, both as a writer and an improviser. His disposition towards distinctive melodism is evolving, but he'll still need to find a way to assert his personality more assertively if he wants to rise above the pack.
Personnel: Aaron Irwin: alto saxophone; Rich Perry: tenor saxophone (1,2,4-6); Ryan Scott: guitar; Matt
Clohesy: bass; Greg Ritchie: drums.