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Jerome Sabbagh at The Jazz Standard, New York City

Budd Kopman By

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Jerome Sabbagh Quartet
The Jazz Standard
New York, NY
Tuesday, April 24, 2007

This gig was to celebrate the release of Sabbagh's latest album Pogo on the Sunnyside label. Maintaining the same band (Ben Monder: guitar, Joe Martin: bass, Ted Poor: drums) as on his previous release North (FSNT, 2005), Sabbagh (tenor and soprano saxophone) continues to expand the influences on his playing while at the same time honing his compositional and performance identity.

It is this identity that is remarkable, as Sabbagh has managed to create an immediately recognizable physical sound from his instrument along with a compositional style that is personally idiosyncratic (in the best sense). His saxophone sound is dry and airy with little vibrato: if thought of in linguistic/cultural terms, it seems to come across as "French," but that could be my projection. Most of the tunes played came, unsurprisingly, from Pogo and demonstrated that no matter what the vibe of the particular tune is, Sabbagh comes through.

What you will not get from Sabbagh is any kind of ostentation or histrionics, but rather understatement and hidden complications. His music has a groove and much emotional depth, both of which are subtly layered beneath a surface coolness. The feeling created is that of a delicate, almost transparent veil existing at first between the player and the listener, a filmy curtain which can, however, be pulled easily aside once it is noticed, revealing music that is direct. Sabbagh seems to work deliberately toward achieving this quality, which is attractive and ultimately quite rewarding for the listener.

The band, having recorded the album, was obviously no stranger to the music but had not been touring with it as a group. This unfamiliarity may explain some of the initial tightness, which quickly disappeared as they gelled and became better balanced in the ensemble sound.

Martin and Poor got locked in as the set progressed and provided the kind of supple and flexible yet grooving rhythm that the music demanded. Perhaps purposefully, Monder employed a rich, slightly distorted guitar sound that played against Sabbagh's dry reeds. Little more needs to be said about the talented guitarist's technique and musicianship, and in many ways, he was the star, at least for this set, which did not seem to bother Sabbagh at all.

Monder's fluid, quite unpredictable lines fit right in with Sabbagh's musical conception, but it was his comping that proved even more impressive. In support of the leader, he found countless chord substitutions and voicings that helped give the floating, unresolved feel that Sabbagh wants. Based on the intriguing results, it should surprise no one that Monder is Sabbagh's choice as his guitarist.

Sabbagh's music is well worth the effort to get beneath its superficial coolness, allowing its subtleties to unfold.

Jerome Sabbagh: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone

Ben Monder: guitar

Joe Martin: bass

Ted Poor: drums

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