Friday, October 16, 2009

Jon Irabagon - The Observer (Concord, 2009)

I was really looking forward to hearing this release as I’m a big fan of Irabagon’s no holds barred playing with the collective group Mostly Other People Do the Killing and his freewheeling duet with drummer Mike Pride. After winning the Thelonious Monk competition for saxophone, he was given a chance to record for the mainstream major label Concord and this album is the result. They didn’t skimp on the supporting cast with Kenny Barron on piano, Rufus Reid on bass and Victor Lewis on drums and Nicholas Payton sitting in on trumpet for a couple of tracks. "January Dream" is a gentle mid-tempo opener, strong but nonthreatening, where Irabagon spools out a confident solo. "Joy’s Secret" has a bright uptempo feel with strong percussive piano and a punchy trumpet interlude along with deep saxophone soloing. "Infant's Song" is a subtle ballad with sections of sax alone and just sax and bass. "Cup Bearers" is a highlight, an uptempo quartet improvisation featuring torrid bop based sax soloing. “Big Jim’s Twins” is another standout, taken at an upbeat and fast tempo, there’s a nimble trumpet solo before a fast and loose saxophone feature. While the rough and ready edges of his playing may have been sanded off a little bit, but this is hardly a sell out and what we are left with is a fine mainstream jazz album, rooted in bop and ballads that should appeal to a wide swath of jazz fans. Jon Irabagon shows that he has a wonderful talent, to be comfortable in the hard swinging world of mainstream jazz and the abstract and ever inquiring world of the avant-garde.
The Observer -

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