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Aaron Irwin: Blood and Thunder

Dan McClenaghan By

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Blood and Thunder sounds like a title that Bob Dylan would give to one of his albums—a mixture of Blood on the Tracks (Columbia Records, 1975) and "Thunder on the Mountain," the opening cut on Modern Times (Columbia Records, 2006). But alto saxophonist Aaron Irwin—thirty years old, bespectacled and white shirt-and-tied in the mode of early Elvis Costello—is the musician behind this Fresh Sound New Talent outing.

Having mentioned a couple of rock artists, it should be noted that Irwin's music is unquestionable straight ahead jazz. He teams up in a front line with tenor saxophonist Chris Speed and with a rhythm team led by guitarist Ben Monder on a set of distinctive tunes that sound fresh and original, with a bit of a bite—sort of in the mode of a jazz Dylan or Costello.

The set opens with an Irwin original, "Like the Sunshine," a tune with an infectious groove and three back-to-back solos—Irwin, Speed and Monder—that each unfold in fantastic form, little twist and turn stories full of quirky beauty and and nuanced surprises. Monder, who contributed in masterful fashion to Maria Schneider's Sky Blue (ArtistShare, 2007), comps with an adroit zing behind the sax men, and when he gets his turn in the spotlight he gives a master class in glowing, restrained intensity, as drummer Matt Clohesy bumps and sizzles behind him.

"The Wizard" features intertwining lines from Irwin and Cheek, and again, two intricate and articular solos from the sax men on a tune with a gorgeously yearning quality. The title tune opens with a Monder chord sounding like a church organ; and if we're in church via Monder's guitar, the bats (the two saxophones) wail out of the rafters and dart and dive from the high ceiling.

"Back to You": put some lyrics to the melody and go grab Willie Nelson and you'll have a down home hit.

Seven of the nine tunes here are Irwin originals, with a nice mix of moods and stellar playing all around. The band also tackles Cole Porter's "From This Moment On," the two horns and guitar noodling playfully into the familiar melody before settling into a bright groove. The group also takes on Bill Evans' "Very Early," swinging gently before closing the set with "Until We Say Goodbye," with Irwin blowing laid-back lines, joined by guest Eliza Cho on violin for a pretty and poignant wrap-up.

This is an especially fine set by a talented up-and-coming artist who put together a great band for this outing.

Track Listing: Like the Sunshine; The Wizard; Blood and Thunder; Back to You; From This Moment On; Little Hurts; Sprung; Very Early; Until We Say Our Last Goodbye.

Personnel: Aaron Irwin: alto saxophone; Chris Cheek: tenor saxophone; Ben Monder: guitar; Matt Clohesy: bass; Ferenc Nemeth: drums; Eliza Cho: violin (9).

Title: Blood and Thunder | Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: Fresh Sound New Talent

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