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Jon Irabagon Featuring Barry Altschul - Foxy (2010)

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By Pico

When Jon Irabagon signed with the mighty Concord Records after bagging the 2008 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition for saxophone, you might assume that he would have left behind his wild side to become a more “serious" player. But his continued involvement in the gangsta jazz group Mostly Other People Do The Killing quickly dispelled any such notion. On September 14, J.I. further makes another statement that fame and acclaim hadn't changed him with his followup to the Concord debut The Observer, called Foxy.

Foxy, Irabagon's fourth as a leader, is no continuation of the more stately The Observer, and it's pretty apparent even before listening to it. For this CD, Irabagon chose Hot Cup Records to release it, the home for MOPDTK, and headed by their bassist, Moppa Elliott. The other clue comes from the album cover, following the MOPDTK tradition of spoofing album covers from classic jazz recorded. In this case, Irabagon pokes fun at Sonny Rollins' Way Out West cover. And then there's the set list: twelve tracks of originals with titles rhyming, or sort of rhyming with the word “foxy."

In a way, these appearances are very deceiving, because despite the cheeky setup, the music can only be made by serious artists. The first visual evidence of this seriousness starts where right next to the bikini babe on the cover it reads “with special guest BARRY ALTSCHUL."

Barry Altschul is one of those drumming legends who for some reason doesn't get mentioned enough times like a legend should, but he's certainly earned the status. One of the founders of the short-lived but much lauded free jazz supergroup Circle along with Chick Corea, Dave Holland, and Anthony Braxton, Altschul went on to make more great records with Holland and Braxton. He's also worked with other jazz notables like Hampton Hawes, Lee Konitz and Paul Bley, while putting out about ten records under his own name.

The bassist Peter Brendler hadn't been around quite as long, having arrived in NYC in 2001, but since then he's performed with leading lights on the order of John Abercrombie, Frank Kimbrough and Victor Lewis. As Foxy shows, he's plenty up to the task of playing with the big boys.

There's no tricks or gimmicks in the 78+ minute blowing sessions; it's just Irabagon, Altschul and Brendler wringing every drop of juice out a standard sixteen bar form. The artificial lines drawn to create the dozen tracks out of of one long, continuous session are intended to delineate points where Irabagon's never-ending solo takes a turn in his multi-faceted sax attack strategy, but honestly, hardly anyone would notice these change ups. Altschul matches Irabagon's muscular tenor exhortations with rowdy rolls and raucous cymbal crashing. Brendler's rubbery bass pumps out that sixteen bar pulse firmly and makes a strong enough presence to allow the other two to wander far off the post-bop center nearly into whack jazz territory. Irabagon and Altschul often happily dance on the dividing line but don't quite cross over.

Foxy isn't the kind of record Irabagon would want to make too often, maybe not ever again. However, it's great one-off fun if you want to listen to top-notch pros just blast away for about eighty minutes like as if you're sitting in at an after hours session at The Blue Note or Small's. In not taking himself too seriously, Irabagon ironically makes himself a rising sax star that deserves to be taken more seriously by others.

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This story appears courtesy of Something Else!.
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