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Jerome Sabbagh: Pogo

Budd Kopman By

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Under a coolness that is felt on the surface of the music, saxophonist Jerome Sabbagh—on the fine release Pogo—creates a tension that is expertly controlled. Intent on developing a style that is personal and recognizable, Sabbagh composes and plays from a core that seems at first tightly controlled. However, that which seems to be reticence turns out to be but the origin of many fiery emotions.

Maintaining the same band as on North (Fresh Sound New Talent, 2005) guitarist Ben Monder, bassist Joe Martin and drummer Ted Poor dig into Sabbagh's compositions that range from the floating and ethereal "Middle Earth" and "Moon/Sun," to the pretty ballad "As One" and driving tunes like the Middle Eastern-inflected "Hamra," "Stand Up" and title tune.

Sabbagh's sound centers around a dry, almost entirely vibrato-less saxophone timbre that makes him sound simultaneously exposed and withholding something—quite the opposite of someone like Wayne Escoffery. Any pitch problems would be exposed by the lack of vibrato, but Sabbagh is rock solid in this department.

Besides leading his own groups and putting out well-received albums like Excavation and Oceana, Monder is in high demand as a sideman and has played and recorded with people as varied as Paul Motian, Maria Schneider and Lee Konitz.

If Sabbagh is the precise and controlled side of the equation, Monder, at least on this record, brings the fire and abandon that provides contrast. His playing, many times with rock distortion, manages to complement Sabbagh's compositions when they have ambiguous harmony and soft edges while taking the hotter tunes to the next level. Monder manages to maintain a balance between a sideman who is part of the rhythm section and co-leader on the front line—the musical camaraderie with Sabbagh is quite audible.

Martin and Poor (who played with Monder on Oceana) provide a supple and flexible rhythmic foundation that stays in constant touch with the needs of the music as it changes within tunes and over the course of the CD.

Pogo represents a working band and has a sound of immediacy that comes only from familiarity. Sabbagh is a fine composer; his music is well worth checking out and following down the road.

Track Listing: Middle Earth; Rooftops; Moon/Sun; Stand Up; Pogo; As One; Hamra; Eye of the Storme.

Personnel: Jerome Sabbagh: tenor, soprano sax; Ben Monder: guitar; Joe Martin: bass; Ted Poor: drums.

Title: Pogo | Year Released: 2007 | Record Label: Sunnyside Records


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