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Jon Irabagon: Behind The Sky

Budd Kopman By

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Simply put, Behind The Sky is a flat-out superlative recording by saxophonist Jon Irabagon. Straddling "inside" and "outside," it can be appreciated by those more comfortable with the straight-ahead (with some stretching, of course), as well as those who enjoy music which challenges the ear and mind.

The "rhythm section," consisting of pianist Luis Perdomo, bassist Yasushi Nakamura and drummer Rudy Royston, has worked with Irabagon a long time and it can be clearly heard, most easily in those sections where a deep, grooving swing is effortless achieved (see "One Wish" —Art Blakey would be smiling). Perdomo, well known in his own right, plays incisively and energetically, providing both the glue which holds the band together and counterpoint to Irabagon. Nakamura is not only a solid bassist, but he manages to not get overwhelmed by Royston, who is on fire (see "The Cost Of Modern Living"!).

Irabagon is a very busy player, working with bassist Moppa Elliott's group Mostly Other People Do The Killing, drummer Barry Altschul's 3Dom Factor group among others, as well as his own group. Approaching the age of forty, he experienced the loss of "a couple of loved ones and mentors in a short amount of time," and ended up expressing his emotions by writing the opening tune of the record, "One Wish."

In a way, artists, especially musicians, whose art actually is real-time emotional expression, are fortunate when having to confront personal loss. Irabagon, in the end, produced, in Behind The Sky, music which looks forward and celebrates this life, as well as looking backward and being thankful for having able to share the lives of others who crossed his path.

While there are a few tunes which center on feeling of loss, pain or melancholic introspection, ("One Wish," "Lost Ship At The Edge Of The Sea," "100 Summers"), most of the album is exhilarating and celebratory. The music is intense, sometimes almost overwhelmingly. Guest artist, trumpeter Tom Harrell, someone who is quite familiar with personal pain and adversity, plays on three tracks and adds a poignant depth that is very apparent.

The title tune, placed last, sums up the emotional universe in which this recording resides. Both saxophones are heard simultaneously, so one must have been overdubbed. The tune is full of energy and is overtly positive, with Irabagon sounding at times like he almost cannot get out the notes and might explode. And yet he reaches beyond this temporary limitation and moves beyond it.

With Beyond The Sky, Irabagon has created music which communicates directly and vividly, and has something for everyone. Excellent.

Track Listing: One Wish; The Cost Of Modern Living; Music Box Song (For When We're Apart); Still Water; Obelisk; Sprites; Lost Ship At The Edge Of The Sea; Mr. Dazzler; Eternal Springs; 100 Summers; Behind The Sky (Hawks And Sparrows).

Personnel: Tom Harrell: trumpet, flugelhorn (4, 5, 9); Jon Irabagon: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone; Luis Perdomo: piano; Yasushi Nakamura: bass; Rudy Royston: drums.

Title: Behind The Sky | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Self Produced

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