Saxophonist Jon Irabagon has explored an immense amount of territory so far in his career such as mainstream and progressive jazz, hip hop, free improvisation and many other areas. This new two disc effort brings two of his more off-the-beaten-path projects together. CD 1, Invisible Guests, contains classical works featuring a string quartet while CD 2, Dark Horizon: Live From The Mausoleum, is a set of live solo improvisations on the mezzo soprano saxophone.
The meat of the first CD is the suite "Invisible Guests" played by the Mivos Quartet and pianist Matt Mitchell. The suite is inspired by the game of mahjongg and has constant interaction between the quartet and piano. it begins with vigorous layered turbulence from the strings eventually augmented by Mitchell's banging chords. The pianist's calm solo playing on "Heaven's Blessing" is followed by a thicket of bowed and plucked strings which eventually works itself into a delirious whirlpool. 'Benevolence, Sincerity and Devoutness" is more subdued and eerie on both sides and conjures up an atmosphere of dark romance.
The mood of the suite constantly shifts. Dense string chugging and icy piano notes mix on "Red Four." The quartet swirls around Mitchell's descending cascades on "The Dreamer" and the intricate agitation of the final movement. "Catching the Fish" eventually dissipates into wispy string echoes that make way for a final collage of motifs that includes an Asian folk melody, a tango and an Irish jig. It's an intense work that brings out the power of the quartet's playing and shows how well Matt Mitchell can fit into this kind of formal atmosphere.
This disc also includes two pieces where Irabagon himself joins the Mivos Quartet on sopranino saxophone. On the first he plays with no mouthpiece, emitting sickly whistles and scraping noises against an imposing wall of groaning strings. With the mouthpiece, his sound is a lot more forceful coming out as siren wails, lush howls, scraps of blues, shredding noise and high-pitched, bubbly runs, all making a fierce contrast to the thick string edifice.
The solo recital on the second disc is a continuation of the exploration of lesser known saxophones. Irabagon began with his exploration of solo sopranino sax on his Inaction Is An Action, (Irabbagast, 2015). This time he turns to the Conn mezzo soprano saxophone, an instrument that has not been manufactured since the 1920s.'
This performance was recorded in an actual mausoleum in Norway that produces a nineteen-second reverb. That allows Irabagon to play around with deep textures using echo and delay. His sound comes out as delirious romantic chatter in "Dark Horizon (entrance)" and shrill, pealing twists on "Dragonwort." Long interludes of creaking and spitting noises on "Forest & Field" and "Eternal Rest" are enhanced by ghostly echoes due to the reverb. On "Half A World Away" unbroken streams of single notes broken up by honks and rapid-fire stutters sound cavernous. In the midst of all this, a recognizable tune shockingly appears, "Good Old Pals," the theme for the old Little Rascals comedy shorts. Irabagon plays the melody straight the first time around, then immediately starts pulling it apart like taffy with stretched notes, pauses and dying moans.
This release shows the boundless reach of Jon Irabagon's musical curiosity. He can write strong classical music and has become one of the most interesting saxophone experimenters around, in addition to all his other credits. This is one of his more unusual releases but it is definitely worth hearing.
CD1 Invisible Guests: Vignette For Mouthpieceless Sopranino Saxophone And String Quartet; Invisible
Guests: West Wing;
Heaven’s Blessing; Benevolence, Sincerity, And Devoutness; Red Four; The Dreamer; Catching The Fish At
The Bottom Of
The River; Vignette For Sopranino Saxophone And String Quartet; CD2 Dark Horizon: Live From The
Horizon (entrance); Dragonwort; Forest & Field; Holy Smoke; Good Old Days (Theme From The Little
Rest; Half A World Away; Dark Horizon (exit bow).
Jon Irabagon: sopranino saxophone, mezzo-soprano saxophone; Matt Mitchell: piano; Mivos Quartet: Olivia
de Prato: violin;
Lauren Cauley Kalal: violin; Victor Lowrie Tafoya: viola; Mariel Roberts: cello.
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