Saxophonist Jon Irabagon, a central figure in Mostly Other People Do the Killing
, guitarist Mary Halvorson
's Quintet and leader of his own trio with drummer Barry Altschul
and bassist Mark Helias
is one of the most prolific composers and performers in music. Still in his thirties, Irabagon has amassed about eighty recordings as a leader, co-leader or sideman and his portfolio covers the breadth from big band swing to free improvisation. As his career has zig-zagged its way through diverse styles and formations, Irabagon has consistently been like a counter-culture rebel, determined to change and impact the system from within.
With the release of Inaction is An Action
Irabagon takes on the solo saxophone traditions of some of his personal influences such as Anthony Braxton
, John Zorn
, Evan Parker
and Roscoe Mitchell
. There are, however, twists in his approach. Irabagon utilizes the sopranino saxophone; the small saxtuned to E flat and at an octave above the altohas a rich resonance comparable to a similarly tuned clarinet. Though the sopranino has been used on occasion by Braxton, Mitchell, Joseph Jarman
and a few others, it is a rarity in modern music. The other notable factor here is that Irabagon's eight original composition are highly experimental, closer to investigation of sounds than to melodic compositions.
The album opens with "Revvvv," clipped patterns that seem to be partnered with wind tunnel effects, it's hard to categorize but haunting in its own way. "Acrobat" consists of plaintive wails with the sax seeming to loop around itself; traces of melody only tease and never fully develop. Irabagon coaxes a remarkable range of sounds from the sopranino and on "What Have We Here" the sax literally speaks in a demonic voice. Similarly, "Hang Out a Shingle" adds haunted creaking and percussive effects to its eerie character. "The Best Kind of Sad" and "Ambiwinxtrous" are a bit reminiscent of Sam Newsome
's solo soprano work on The Straight Horn of Africa: A Path to Liberation
(Self-produced, 2014) and both unexpectedly devote brief passages to more prolonged melodies. The rapidly paced "Liquid Fire" is loose and uninhibited while the closer, "Alps," is a whisper of sounds until its briefly frenetic conclusion.
The Zen reference of Inaction is An Action
is open to interpretation in the context of this collection, but certainly from the perspective of what constitutes music (as opposed to what some would surely classify as noise), the allusion is both valid and challenging. Repeated listening is rewarded by the uncovering of complexity and nuance that may not be obvious at first. Irabagon works at times in near silence, at others in a mechanical din of sounds all while he reaches for the highest and lowest registers imaginable for the instrument. Inaction is An Action
is clearly not for the faint of heart, but for those with a more exploratory nature, it is packed with new ideas.