Jerome Sabbagh – Plugged In (2012)

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photo courtesy of Fully Altered Media

For his fifth album, the French tenor saxman Jerome Sabbagh went “electric” and not only amplified the sounds but also succeeded in amplifying his musical message. Plugged In, as this record is so accurately titled, represents a fresh approach by Sabbagh, not just in the leading of an electric band, but a truly international band of all new participants. American Rudy Royston provides the drums, electric bassist Patrice Blanchard is from the Caribbean island of Martinique, and keyboardist Jozef Dumoulin hails from Belgium.

Sabbagh, who had served as Paul Motian’s last sax player in his New Trio before Motian’s passing late last year, has a buttery tone and delivery falling somewhere between Stan Getz and Sadao Watanabe, and the key to this album is how well he leverages his restrained character in this new environment. His partnership with Dumoulin plays a major role in that: Dumoulin’s keyboards have a glowing resonance that mates well with Sabbagh, that’s also a little rough around the edges. The conformity and contrast gives Sabbagh a vista for fitting into the louder sound.

The partnership with Dumoulin extends to songwriting, as they evenly contribute seven songs a piece to this effort. Sabbagh’s contributions tend toward the soulful, like “Special K” (video of live performance below), and mainstream, post bop, such as “Rider,” whereas Dumoulin has a predilection for extended pieces (“Walk 6″, UR”) or even avant-garde (“Walk 3 Bis”). This varies the program greatly, and keeps things from bogging down into sameness; Sabbagh even wrote a calypso tune “Jeli” that Blanchard’s bubbling bass feasts upon. The consistency across these pieces comes from Sabbagh’s introspective moods; even on the rapid bop union lines found on “Ur”, Sabbagh keeps his cool. The same disposition exists for the out jazz numbers such as “Walk 3 Bis” and the swirling entrance to “Slow Rock Ballad.”

Once in a while the rhythm section pushes back and serves as a counterbalance to Sabbagh’s laid back demeanor; Royston is explosive on “Drive” and the two combine for a nice, mid-tempo groove on “City Dawn.” Mostly, though, they perform as collected and tactful as their leader.

Thus, Plugged In may signify a new game plan for Jerome Sabbagh, but the character of this record still rests on his horn. Whether you like this record will, in turn, rest on whether you like the sound of his sax. Myself, I tend to agree with the late Paul Motian. Plugged In might be mostly mellow, but it’s the soothing — not boring — kind of mellow.

Plugged In was released April 26 by Bee Jazz. Visit Jerome Sabbagh’s website for more info.

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S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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