Jon Irabagon: Invisible Horizon

Mark Corroto By

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The inexhaustibly adventurist saxophonist Jon Irabagon has repeatedly challenged his listeners with each project he undertakes. The 2008 Thelonious Monk Saxophone Competition champion and former member of the rebel outfit Mostly Other People Do The Killing can be heard in Mary Halvorson's projects, The Dave Douglas Quintet, and Barry Altschul's 3Dom Factor, beside leading his own trio, quartet and quintets. But then again, maybe he is continually challenging himself to expand his music in new directions.

Invisible Horizon is a great example of his development, actually two great examples. The two-disc release presents Irabagon solo and with pianist Matt Mitchell and the Mivos string quartet. The centerpiece of the "Invisible Guests" disc is a six-movement suite which, the saxophonist explains in his liner notes, is based upon the game a mahjong. This far East game has seemingly more superstitions than rules, and a participant's eccentricities play a large rule in this communal activity. Irabagon captures the essence of the game's mayhem with its four players voiced by the members of the Mivos Quartet with Mitchell adding the invisible hand of fate, or maybe better, a sort of sorcery to the mix. If Irabagon's take is an accurate description of the ancient game, then improvisation as an art form began millennia before Buddy Bolden. Bookending the suite are the "Vignette For Sopranino Saxophone And String Quartet" performances. Of the two iterations, the first has Irabagon blowing into his sopranino saxophone without a mouthpiece and second with the instrument intact. Listeners can judge for themselves by comparing the two, but the version sans mouthpiece is eerily exciting.

Maybe Irabagon's Majong experiment readies the ear for his solo performance at Tomba Emmanuelle, a mausoleum in Oslo, Norway. This structure was the work of artist Emanuel Vigeland (1875-1948) and it holds, beside his mortal remains, enormous frescoes and a very lengthy reverb between 13 and 18 seconds. Labeling this a solo performances might be a misnomer, as the resonating echo effectively acts as a second performer. Irabagon chose a Conn mezzo-soprano saxophone for this performance. The rare instrument was only produced by Conn Instruments in 1928 and 1929, and was discontinued with the onset of the Great Depression. Irabagon—who can move seamlessly from alto to tenor, soprano, and sopranino saxophones—tackles this challenge with the same assertiveness heard on his solo sopranino saxophone recording Inaction Is An Action (Irrabagast Records, 2015). It is, though, the reverb that sparks the sounds here. He plays both straight melodies with copious quantities of extended technique. Freakish extended technique. The room forces him to apply patience to both melody and technique. Much like Pauline Oliveros' cistern recordings, the room dictates the sound, nudging him towards the otherworldly. Even his cover of the cartoonish "Good Old Days (Theme From the Little Rascals)" turns ghostly from the room's decay forcing Irabagon to patiently place his overblown notes.

Track Listing: 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 Mausoleum: Dark Horizon (entrance); Dragonwort; Forest & Field; Holy Smoke; Good Old Days (Theme From The Little Rascals); Eternal Rest; Half A World Away; Dark Horizon (exit bow).

Personnel: 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.

Title: Invisible Horizon | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: Irabbagast Records

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