I Don't Hear Nothin' But The Blues is a hilariously apt title for the new CD by saxophonist Jon Irabagon and drummer Mike Pride. The phraseand the cover art, featuring both as well-dressed train-hopperswould suggest a certain something to most listeners, maybe a tribute to Louisiana Red or Memphis Slim or Mississippi John Hurt. And while the one long, extended jam that makes up the disc is not quite any such thing, it still stands as an appropriate answer for some unasked question: "What kind of music is this supposed to be?" "I don't know, man. I don't hear nothin' but the blues." Or, "What do you think of most American music in the 20th Century?" "To tell you the truth, I don't hear nothin' but the blues."
As member of the neo-hard bop quartet Mostly Other People Do The Killing and winner of the 2008 Thelonious Monk Saxophone Competition, Irabagon has plenty of jazz chops, but the tension that makes the duo so exciting seems propelled by Pride; he has had other jazz outings, but his playing is shaped at least as much by his punk and metal background. The trade-off that happens, then, is one of constant recalibrating. Irabagon seems to come up with statements easily, potential themes which could be explored, might return over the course of a set and sometimes appear so briefly they may be glancing Charlie Parker or Gene Ammons heads, disappearing too quick to catch or stopped cold by a momentary, brutal drum fill. Pride seems split at the waist, playing jazz with his arms and speed metal with his legs, sometimes focusing his energy on upper- or lower-body attacks.
But within that give and take, the two musicians seem at ease. The changes are many and quick, but never feel forced. The sax/drum duo is by now a well-trod road. Irabagon and Pride find their own way of traversing it.