Jon Irabagon is one of the most promising and versatile sax players in New York. Last year he was described, in the humoristic liner notes of Moppa Elliot's terrorist bebop quartet Mostly Other People Do the Killing's Shamokin (Hot Cup, 2007), as "somehow seemingly melding Najee and Zorn," his sax playing recalling "Johnny Hodges, Booker Ervin and the cries of an injured animal." Not the most subtle description of Irabagon's abilities, but an accurate insight into his artistic vision as the saxophonist integrates, on his debut release as a leader, the many influences which contribute to his original voice, always twisting and spinning them through his own personal prism. He succeeds in melding the backwards-thinking ideas of Wynton Marsalis with the forward-thinking ideas of Tim Berne's, the lunar-based grooves of Steve Coleman with the folky rhythms of Brian Blade's Fellowship and a massive New Orleansian freak choir with the titanic Peter Brotzmann's walls of sound, all in a very organic and convincing manner.
Backed by an impressive core quintetRuss Johnson on trumpet, Kris Davis on keyboards, Eivind Opsvik on bass and Jeff Davis on drumswhich makes the interplay almost telepathic, especially between Irabagon and Johnson, who both play in perfect unison on the opening tight and energetic "Anchors (By Design)." Irabagon jumps and skips genres from track to track and on the following track, "Quorum Call," he features an atmospheric tone poem that sails at first quietly between bursts of programmed stormy beats while every player gets a chance to push the envelope, the piece gaining momentum until all sounds are channeled into a chaotic mix. "Groovin' High" features the quintet in another mode all together. This, the most straight-forward track, is anchored with Opsvik's infectious bass playing, and alternates between muscular bebop blows and some more screeching solos by Irabagon and Johnson.
"That Was Then" features the Outright! Mixed Choir, a 14-memberband with three acoustic bass players and another electric bassist, that offers an open and spare rhythmic base for Kris Davis' dreamy organ playingand Jack Broad and Scott Dubois' bluesy guitars, while Irabagon flies over them with a beautiful soulful solo.
The "Outright! Theme" features a 30-member Original Outright! Jazz Band in a heart felt tribute to the traditional marching orchestra, but here getting twisted with Brotzmann-style waterfalls of manic sounds before Kris Davis steers this wild beast back into a more familiar ragtime territory. "Charles Barkley," after the great NBA giant, alternates between aggressive free-wheeling playing, with imaginative solos from Johnson, Irabagon and Jeff Davis, and steadier post-bop rhythms. The last track, "Oddjob," begins with an Irabagon solo that alternates between a funky rhythm and spare fragments of this same rhythm before the rest of the quintet joins for a tight exploration of the theme, the rhythm section keeping the tension going throughout the composition as if the piece itself were intended to be part of one of the action scenes in James Bond's Goldfinger (1964), the movie which first introduced us to the eccentric villain character of Oddjob. Warmly recommended.
Track Listing: Anchors (By Design); Quorum Call; Groovin' High; That Was Then ; Outright! Theme; Charles Barkley; Oddjob.
Personnel: Jon Irabagon: alto saxophone, vocals (4); Russ Johnson: trumpet, vocals (4); Kris Davis: piano, organ, vocals (4); Eivind Opsvik: acoustic bass, vocals (4); Jeff Davis: drums, vocals (4); Chris Cash: Programming (2); Jesse Lewis: guitar (4); C.J. Camerieri: trumpet (5); Kirk Knuffke: trumpet (5); Justin Ray: trumpet (5); Nathan Warner: trumpet (5); Jason Gillenwater: clarinet (5), vocals (4); Peter Van Huffel: soprano saxophone (5); Andrew Neff: alto saxophone (5); Loren Stillman: alto saxophone (5), vocals (4); Steve Frieder: tenor saxophone (5), vocals (4); Bryan Murray: tenor saxophone (5), vocals (4); Jason Rigby: tenor saxophone (5), vocals (4); Samir Zarif: tenor saxophone (5); Carl Maraghi: baritone saxophone (5); Tim Vaughn: trombone (5); John Yao: trombone (5); Max Seigel: bass trombone (5), vocals (4); Jack Broad: electric guitar (5), vocals (4); Scott DuBois: electric guitar (5), vocals (4); Jesse Lewis: electric guitar (5); Terry McManus: electric guitar (5); Rich Miletic: acoustic guitar (5), vocals (4); Alex Smith: organ (5); Michael Bates: acoustic bass (5), Moppa Elliott: acoustic bass (5), vocals (4); Matt Grason: electric bass (5), vocals (4); Linda Oh: electric bass (5), vocals (4).