Wednesday, February 26, 2014

CD Review: Jon Irabagon - It Takes All Kinds

Jon Irabagon
It Takes All Kinds

When listeners got past Rahsaan Roland Kirk's skill at playing two or three saxophones at once, only then would they pick up on his biggest talent: the ability to draw on an encyclopedic knowledge of jazz that would fit in any musical situation. He could pay homage to any of the saxophonists in the Ellington band. He probably could've stood up to Ben Webster in a cutting session.  He could also pick up what Coltrane was laying down (at least to a certain extent). In a way he did both of the last two in "From Bechet, Byas and Fats" on the Rip, Rig and Panic album.

Maybe it's a bit of a stretch, but Jon Irabagon is gearing up to be a new generation version of Kirk, in terms of scope and skill. After winning the Thelonious Monk Institutte Competition a few years ago, he released a solid, straight ahead album on Concord. Concurrently, he was already playing with Mostly Other People Do the Killing (and continues to), who respect their forefathers but aren't confined by them. On his recent albums as a leader he's released blistering free improvisation and orchestrated compositions.

But before scrambling to catch up with his back catalog, the curious listeners can discover several facets of his personality on It Takes All Kinds. Recorded live at the German Jazzwerkstatt Peitz Festival last year, he performs an original set with drummer Barry Altschul and bassist Mark Helias. In a sense, the set presents a history of the tenor saxophone and where it's come since 1965 (an arbitrary date, offered just for reference). The unaccompanied intro to "Quintessential Kitten" begins in a manner akin to Sonny Rollins. The honking groove in the middle of "Wherewithal" recalls Archie Shepp. When Irabagon really starts to wail later in the set, there's some David S. Ware in his execution.

However, these comparisons happen in passing and don't literally reflect Irabagon's approach to the tenor. He has digested all of this music and reworking it to shape his own desires. Altschul (who had Irabagon on his excellent The 3dom Factor last year) and Helias help him take his new ideas and develop them, whether holding back on "Unconditional" or twisting the time on "Pause and Flip." Together they create a fascinating blend of solid swing and free abandon.

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