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Jon Irabagon: The Observer *

Track List

>January Dream
>Joy's Secret
>Infant's Song, The
>Cup Bearers
>Observer, The
>Makai and Tacoma
>Big Jim's Twins
>Closing Arguments

Album Remarks & Appraisals:

"At first, this album from alto sax player Jon Irabagon seemed dispiritingly safe and like it could have been recorded any time in the last half-century. But by the end, its sheer musicality had won me over. Irabagon makes a distinctive sound, ranging from harsh multiphonics to a mellifluous expressivity not far removed from Cannonball Adderley." -Telegraph

Album Reviews:

Down Beat (p.73) - 3.5 stars out of 5 -- "[H]e commands all the conventions of late bebop with a clean and unforced confidence, principally on alto saxophone."

JazzTimes (p.63) - "For someone of Irabagon's skills, the sky's the limit. But this firmly grounded version of the young saxophonist sets the bar high."

Album Notes

Personnel: Jon Irabagon (alto saxophone); Kenny Barron (piano); Victor Lewis (drums).

Audio Mixer: Rudy Van Gelder.

Jon Irabagon's third recording as a leader, aside from his duties with Most Other People Do the Killing, is a refined, straight-ahead jazz effort that locks into his potential as a post-to-neo-bop player with an original sound on his alto sax. Joining the young man is a dream-team rhythm section of pianist Kenny Barron, bassist Rufus Reid, and drummer Victor Lewis, as cohesive and professional a trio as is available in current jazz circles. With slightly soured shadings à la Jackie McLean, Irabagon and his group steam through these original compositions straight out of the Blue Note/Prestige label bag of modern jazz established in the '50s and '60s, updated but not taken in contemporary or trendy contexts. The lyrical flow of Irabagon's horn is easy to enjoy, yet there's a bit of tension and release that identifies his personal sound. After all, he did not win the prestigious Thelonious Monk Jazz Competition based on playing fakebook tunes, or copying his idols. Irabagon's consistency is heard during the bluesy, modal "January Dream," which sounds like an extension of Wayne Shorter's "Nefertiti"; the good swinger "The Observer," where he proves quite adept at building a solo; Gigi Gryce's beautiful ballad "Infant's Song," initially in accord with Reid's bass; or "Makai & Tacoma," which could easily be flanked alongside the standard "Secret Love." The change-ups include the pensive, soulful, midtempo waltz "Acceptance," the loose bop version of Tom McIntosh's "Cup Bearers," and the circular, cascading piano of Barron cuing a pretty, light funk on top of "Closing Arguments." Trumpeter Nicholas Payton joins in on the hip, contemporary, caravan beat of "Joy's Secret" favorably comparable to a typical Woody Shaw tune, while the hard bopper "Big Jim's Twins" hearkens back to the days of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, as Irabagon and Payton play in perfect unison, happily swinging until daybreak. Finally, there's a languorous duet with pianist Bertha Hope on her husband Elmo Hope's "Barfly." Those expecting the wildly progressive approach of Irabagon's previous outings, or music similar to MOPDTK, should be aware of the conscious change that affects this repertoire. Regardless of personal preferences, many should be pleased at how Irabagon and his crack band expertly maneuver though this tasteful set of swinging mainstream jazz originals. ~ Michael G. Nastos


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