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Jon Irabagon: Foxy

Troy Collins By

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The classic late 1950s trio recordings of Sonny Rollins are widely revered by up and coming saxophonists as a benchmark against which to prove themselves. Saxophonist Jon Irabagon, winner of the 2008 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition and a celebrated member of the infamous quintet Mostly Other People Do the Killing, wryly acknowledges this fact on his first trio record, Foxy, which takes a cue (visually and conceptually) from Rollins' seminal 1957 masterpiece, Way Out West (Contemporary).

Though boasting one of the most humorous album cover parodies of recent times, Foxy contains some deadly serious music. Joined by legendary drummer Barry Altschul and bassist Peter Brendler, Irabagon and company embark on a single extended improvisation based on a standard sixteen bar form, expanding and extrapolating the tradition with a vivacious combination of irreverence and respect. Similar to Irabagon's duo record with drummer Mike Pride, I Don't Hear Nothin' But The Blues (Loyal Label, 2009), this relentless studio session exudes the same unflagging kinetic intensity, while spotlighting the saxophonist's extroverted side—an aspect largely missing from his classy major label debut, The Observer (Concord, 2009).

A virtuosic stylist not beholden to the tradition's more conservative attitudes, Irabagon's mercurial tenor flights brim with spry invention throughout the set's uninterrupted 78 minute duration, from the fade-in intro to the shockingly abrupt ending. With inexhaustible stamina and unbridled enthusiasm, he unleashes a bellowing stream of lyrical cadences in vacillating time signatures that alternate with asymmetrical refrains, altissimo accents and multiphonic blasts. His technical prowess and singular creativity facilitates the incorporation of divergent approaches into naturalistic extrapolations, seamlessly uniting formalism with abstraction.

Providing historical precedent for his epic excursions, Irabagon regularly interweaves witty references from old chestnuts into his tortuous screeds. Recalling the bop-era's penchant for quotation, snippets from Great American Songbook standards like "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered" and "Let It Snow" appear briefly before modulating into deconstructed variations on blues, bop and swing motifs. Further emphasizing its connection to the music's historical continuum, the album length improvisation is divided into individual tracks with punning titles like "Proxy," "Roxy" and "Biloxi"—a sly reference to Rollins' staple tune "Doxy."

Proving his mettle as a magnanimous leader (without refraining from the action), Irabagon occasionally assumes the role of sideman for Altschul and Brendler, plying hypnotic John Coltrane-inspired fragments as harmonic support. Brendler is a stalwart supporting player with a stout tone and bracing technique, but it is Altschul's fulsome attack that dominates the rhythm section, with contributions that are as rousing as his iconic collaborations with Paul Bley, Anthony Braxton and Sam Rivers three decades ago.

A tour de force of ardent virtuosity and cogent interplay, this marathon blowing session is a potent reminder of the joyous spontaneity of jazz in all its stylistic permutations, and a bold statement from a young artist on the rise.

Track Listing: Foxy; Proxy; Chicken Poxy; Boxy; Hydroxy; Biloxi; Tsetse; Unorthodoxy; Epoxy; Roxy; Foxy (Radio Edit); Moxie.

Personnel: Jon Irabagon: tenor saxophone; Peter Brendler: bass; Barry Altschul: drums.

Title: Foxy | Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: Hot Cup Records

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