Jon Irabagon – I Don’t Hear Nothin’ But The Blues, Volume 2: Appalachian Haze (2012)

Jon Irabagon is jazz’s merry subversive, often turning long-held jazz precepts inside out while paying respects to many of tradition’s icons. And then there are times where his assaults are frontal, without any pretense of being a well-meaning traditionalist who accidentally strayed off the reservation, like the Foxy non-stop blowing session with Barry Altschul. And now, “I Don’t Hear Nothin’ But The Blues” has become another one of his one of his “fuck this” vehicles.

It wasn’t always quite that way. Irabagon’s first go at it, called just I Don’t Hear Nothin’ But the Blues, was a duet between the saxophonist and drummer Mike Pride. That 2009 date was a fine forty-seven minute improvisation, but still containing some semblance of structure and melody. For the follow up, Irabagon wanted to get bionic: better, stronger, faster. To make that happen, he brought in experimental metal guitarist Mick Barr (Ocrilim, Octis). Irabagon and Pride continue the strategy from this first IDHNBTB album of using a “resource bank” of pre-determined patterns that can be used to mingle with patterns made up on the spot. But now, there’s a third voice in Barr, who was given freedom to create his own things and also acts as a true foil and tonal partner for Irabagon.

I Don’t Hear Nothin’ But The Blues, Volume 2: Appalachian Haze is, too, is a single 47 minute performance, but it’s forty-seven minutes of unrelenting guttural expression. It’s often hard to tell who’s leading and who’s following; more likely they are responding to each other’s slightest cues that can signal greater changes. Barr leaves not a single second where he’s not striking a note, his pick is running a marathon. Irabagon, for his part, barely leaves himself time to draw breath. That leaves Pride being the only one utilizing space at all which he does so effectively, and keeping time isn’t really in the cards for a song built on sheer intensity, not cadence. Nonetheless, he occasionally builds short lived grooves that he quickly corrupts; it’s just much more fun to join the other two in the food fight rather than attempt to maintain a modicum of order. Meanwhile, the guys up front rapidly skitter up and down the scales, occasionally stopping on a note to beat the shit out of it for a while.

It’s hard to pick out the peak of a song that mashes the foot down on the gas pedal and doesn’t let up, but Barr and Irabagon reach the highest note together around the 27 minute mark and stay there for a minutes or two. Around the 33-minute mark, they finally slow down (relatively speaking) but soon after go back for more unhinged shenanigans. By this time, Irabagon seems intent on making every kind of noise possible from a tenor sax.

It takes special kind of musicians to have the wherewithal, acumen and stamina to play so free, loose and loud for the better part of an hour, remembering that Ornette did something similar to this back in ’60. It also takes a pretty weird, unique person to not only sit through this but also dig this cacophony. Luckily for Irabagon, there are a few of us eccentrics out there.

I’ll have another one of these, please.

I Don’t Hear Nothin’ But The Blues, Volume 2: Appalachian Haze will on November 6 become one of two label-launching releases by Irabagon’s new Irabbagast Records. His other new record? We’ll chat about that one tomorrow.

Visit Jon Irabagon’s website for more info.

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S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is a CPA and mid-level data analyst 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. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.