It was only four years ago when saxophonist Jon Irabagon made his first splash as a solo artist with Outright!. Since then, he’s gone from obscure to being one of the most prolific tenor saxophonists working in NYC today: Mary Halvorson Quartet/Quintet, Mike Pride’s Bacteria To Boys, Mostly Other People Do The Killing and Bryan and the Haggards are just a handful of other notable projects this 2008 Thelonious Monk Competition winner has been involved with over the last few years. There’s a bit of irony — probably intended — that of the pair of albums coming out on the same day by Irabagon, the one that’s called Unhinged is much less so of the two (yesterday we examined the punk/free jazz thrill ride entitled I Don’t Hear Nothin’ But The Blues, Volume 2: Appalachian Haze). For his new, second Outright! album, Irabagon doesn’t go where he dared to tread with Blues, but he makes just about every other edgy jazz stop on this trip through many styles that he’s got a good grasp on. All tracks are held together by a spunky attitude and daring that typifies his discography as a whole.
This Outright! band of 2012 is completely different from the 2008 version, save for Irabagon himself. John Hébert (bass), Ralph Alessi (trumpet), Jacob Sacks (piano, keyboards) and Tom Rainey (drums) fill in the same roles of the earlier ensemble, and their diverse talents get a pretty good workout.
“Charles Barkley” is repeated from the first Outright! disc, with nearly the same arrangement. An odd decision, but it remains a great example of Irabagon’s construction/deconstruction approach to composition. He and Alessi double on short statements punctuated by piano. Alessi tears into his solo in front of barely contained rhythm section. The chorus is fractured with horn players doing the opposite of unison. Irabagon gets playful with the piano on his solo before joining Rainey in a round of relaxed swing.
Speaking of Alessi, Irabagon found a perfect front line partner who is equally proficient at both the inside and outside games, and shows much the same gumption as the leader. In addition to some crisp performance on “Barkley” and “Krem2eek,” he proves to be just as colorful and passionate as Irabagon on the lugubrious “Mourning In America,” and comes scary close to Freddie Hubbard on “Parker Posey,” a hard swinging tune that by the end sounds like Chuck Berry leading a Dixieland band.
“Lola Pastillas” is a tango that soon gets tangled, first when Sacks’ piano devolves into out-jazz, then again when the whole band breaks down into anarchy and then a third time as the song gallops away from the Latin pulse entirely. “Krem2eek” is some slippery, 70s Brecker Brothers bebop funk, replete with the hard rock guitar soloing, courtesy of Glenn Alexander.
“Silent Smile (Urban Love Song)” proves to be the most ambitious track in a set full of risk-taking. It all begins meekly with Hébert’s divine, reserved rumination, gradually blowing up into something outrageously grandiose as Sacks’ organ and the huge Outright! Orchestra enters into the song in layers. Eventually, it turns into a massive, swirling beautiful mess like something you might hear from Burnt Sugar The Arkestra Chamber. Irabagon caps it with a climatic, show stopping sax clinic.
The lone cover is Paul Desmond’s “Take Five,” in its most unrecognizable form ever. Unsettled, searching and spiritual, it’s not performed in a 5/4 rhythm, or any time signature at all. Irabagon abstracted it completely, giving it a mid-60s Coltrane interpretation.
As a sort of musical chameleon, Irabagon’s essence is perhaps best exemplified by the self-described “iPod-like genre shifts” displayed on his Outright! projects, where no matter what he plays, he plays it well. To listen to Unhinged is to understand why everybody who is somebody in jazz wants him in their band or play on their record.
Unhinged goes on sale November 6, from Irabagon’s fledgling Irabbagast Records. Visit Jon Irabagon’s website for more info.
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