397

Jon Irabagon: The Observer

Troy Collins By

Sign in to view read count
Best known as the volatile saxophonist in bassist Moppa Elliott's self proclaimed terrorist be-bop band Mostly Other People Do the Killing, Jon Irabagon has only just begun his career as a solo artist. His bristling duet with drummer Mike Pride, I Don't Hear Nothin' But The Blues (Loyal Label, 2009) was preceded by Outright! (Innova, 2008), the self-titled debut of his own vivaciously eclectic quartet.

The Observer is Irabagon's first release for Concord Records, which awarded him a recording contract after he won last year's Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition. On this surprisingly straight-ahead session (expertly recorded by Rudy Van Gelder), Irabagon is supported by a trio of longstanding veterans; pianist Kenny Barron, bassist Rufus Reid, and drummer Victor LewisStan Getz's touring rhythm section of the 1980s. Years of shared experience elevates Barron, Reid, and Lewis' congenial interplay beyond mere professionalism, lending this date a timeless appeal.

Seven of the ten selections are originals, demonstrating Irabagon's flair for composing accessible jazz tunes that fit comfortably in the mainstream tradition. A dynamic soloist, Irabagon plays alto for most of the date, his tortuous cadences recalling Charlie Parker's blistering dexterity, Wayne Shorter's cerebral precision, and Julian "Cannonball" Adderley's soulful poise. Showing great reserve, he reins in his more vociferous tendencies, using subtle expressionistic accents (altissimo, chromatics, multiphonics) sparingly.

The heavily syncopated "January Dream" opens the set with lush harmonies from Barron and stalwart support from Reid and Lewis. Tom McIntosh's "Cup Bearers" is a brisk bop number, while the sultry title track is a lilting mid-tempo swinger featuring Irabagon's effusive tenor. Infused with simmering post-bop energy, "Joy's Secret" reveals a subtle complexity, underpinned by Lewis' Latin accents and Barron's prismatic flourishes, spotlighting a mellifluous trumpet solo from guest artist Nicholas Payton, who also contributes pithy salvos to the scorching hard bop burner "Big Jim's Twins."

Alternating vibrant up-tempo tunes with more introspective fare, Irabagon unveils a rarely heard sensitive side. His velvety tone is highlighted on Gigi Gryce's melancholy "Infant Song," while his lyrical phrasing dominates "Acceptance," the breezy bossa nova "Makai and Tacoma" and the earthy "Closing Arguments." His intimate duet with guest pianist Bertha Hope on her late husband Elmo Hope's somber ballad "Barfly" reveals depths of emotional maturity.

A solid and eminently likeable mainstream affair, The Observer scarcely hints at Irabagon's avant-garde credentials, focusing instead on his tastefully virtuosic capabilities as a straight-ahead stylist—yet another facet of his wide-ranging artistry.

Track Listing: January Dream; Joy's Secret; The Infant's Song; Cup Bearers; The Observer; Acceptance; Makai and Tacoma; Big Jim's Twins; Barfly; Closing Arguments.

Personnel: Jon Irabagon: alto saxophone; Kenny Barron: piano (1-8, 10); Rufus Reid: bass (1-8, 10); Victor Lewis: drums (1-8, 10); Nicholas Payton: trumpet (2, 8); Bertha Hope: piano (9).

Title: The Observer | Year Released: 2009 | Record Label: Concord Music Group

Tags

comments powered by Disqus

Shop for Music

Start your music shopping from All About Jazz and you'll support us in the process. Learn how.

What Have We Here

What Have We Here

Jon Irabagon
Inaction is An Action

The Cost of Modern Living

The Cost of Modern Living

Jon Irabagon
Behind The Sky

Radio
Album Reviews
Multiple Reviews
Album Reviews
Multiple Reviews
Album Reviews
Multiple Reviews
Album Reviews
Interviews
Album Reviews
Read more articles
Dr. Quixotic's Traveling Exotics

Dr. Quixotic's...

Irabbagast
2018

buy
Behind The Sky

Behind The Sky

Self Produced
2016

buy
Inaction is An Action

Inaction is An Action

Self Produced
2016

buy
Inaction is An Action

Inaction is An Action

Self Produced
2015

buy
Behind The Sky

Behind The Sky

Self Produced
2015

buy
It Takes All Kinds

It Takes All Kinds

Jazzwerkstatt Berlin-brandenburg E.v.
2014

buy

Upcoming Shows

Date Detail Price
Apr20Sat
Joe Policastro Trio with Jon Irabagon
Iridium
New York, NY
$25

Related Articles

Read Live in Newcastle, December 8, 1972 Album Reviews
Live in Newcastle, December 8, 1972
By John Kelman
April 19, 2019
Read HUJE 2018 Album Reviews
HUJE 2018
By Jack Bowers
April 19, 2019
Read Farallon Album Reviews
Farallon
By Jerome Wilson
April 19, 2019
Read Burning Meditation Album Reviews
Burning Meditation
By John Sharpe
April 18, 2019
Read Remembering Cecil Album Reviews
Remembering Cecil
By Dan McClenaghan
April 18, 2019
Read Apophenia Album Reviews
Apophenia
By Roger Farbey
April 18, 2019
Read Transcending the Sum Album Reviews
Transcending the Sum
By Chris May
April 17, 2019