397

Jon Irabagon: The Observer

Troy Collins By

Sign in to view read count
Jon Irabagon: The Observer
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 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).

Album information

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

Post a comment about this album

Tags

Shop Amazon

More

Read Warmer Than Blood
Warmer Than Blood
Chris Montague
Read Off Brand
Off Brand
Collage Project
Read Expanding Light
Expanding Light
Whit Dickey Trio
Read Iron Starlet
Iron Starlet
Connie Han

All About Jazz needs your support

Donate
All About Jazz & Jazz Near You were built to promote jazz music: both recorded and live events. We rely primarily on venues, festivals and musicians to promote their events through our platform. With club closures, shelter in place and an uncertain future, we've pivoted our platform to collect, promote and broadcast livestream concerts to support our jazz musician friends. This is a significant but neccesary effort that will help musicians now, and in the future. You can help offset the cost of this essential undertaking by making a donation today. In return, we'll deliver an ad-free experience (which includes hiding the bottom right video ad). Thank you.

Get more of a good thing

Our weekly newsletter highlights our top stories and includes your local jazz events calendar.