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Jerome Sabbagh featuring Jozef Dumoulin: Plugged In

Jeff Dayton-Johnson By

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Plugged In is an immensely appealing record and an artistic success. The source of that success is the revelatory combination of the highly individual—and at first blush, not necessarily compatible—sounds of saxophonist Jerome Sabbagh and keyboardist Jozef Dumoulin.

Sabbagh has had a string of critically-acclaimed albums, notably including North (Fresh Sound New Talent, 2005) and Pogo (Sunnyside, 2007), both of which featured guitarist Ben Monder. On these and other records, Sabbagh comes across as a poster child for the enduring relevance and fresh possibilities of the straight-ahead, mainstream jazz approach (on the more recent I Will Follow You (Bee Jazz, 2010), with Monder and drummer Daniel Humair, Sabbagh ventures bravely into freer pastures, but nevertheless tends to play the straight man).

Sabbagh's tenor has a touch of Ben Webster's sweetness and quite a bit of Stan Getz's forthright clarity. The most remarkable element of his playing on Plugged In is the shape of his phrases, the meticulous attention paid to rhythm, timing and space in his solos, as well as melody; in this regard, Sabbagh is a true heir to the bold post-bop architectural genius of Sonny Rollins.

Pianist Dumoulin gets second billing, but his contribution to the record's success is every bit as important as Sabbagh's. Dumoulin's recent Rainbow Body (Bee Jazz, 2011) revealed an anarchic pianist, one who uses varying pitch and distortion the way an acoustic pianist would use dynamics to enliven a solo or add color to accompaniment. If anything, he sounds even more joyfully irreverent in the best of his solos on Plugged In ("Ur," "Jeli," "City Dawn"). Dumoulin's sound is worlds apart from Sabbagh's "Sonny at the Village Vanguard" vibe, but shares with the saxophonist a solid commitment to the collective enterprise.

The compositions are generally quite strong. They range from tender ballads ("Ronny") to blues ("Minor") to ersatz Latin jazz you might expect from Ornette Coleman's Prime Time ("Jeli," "Kasbah"). The most affecting are generally penned by Sabbagh and have the earnest soulfulness of the best Chris Potter Underground tracks.

Sabbagh and Dumoulin are ably backed by the electric bass and drums of Patrice Blanchard and Rudy Royston respectively. Royston's churning drum solo on "Ur"—a kind of Ur-rhythm, indeed—is only the most obvious of his excellent contributions.

This potentially ill-suited pairing has likely created one of 2012's finest and most eminently satisfying releases.

Track Listing: Drive; Special K; Aisha; Jeli; Ronny; Walk 6; Ur; Minor; Rider; Boulevard Carnot; City Dawn; Walk 3 bis; Kasbah; Slow Rock Ballad.

Personnel: Jerome Sabbagh: tenor saxophone; Jozef Dumoulin: keyboards; Patrice Blanchard: electric bass; Rudy Royston: drums.

Title: Plugged In | Year Released: 2012 | Record Label: Bee Jazz

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