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Recent Listening: Aaron Irwin

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Aaron Irwin Group, Blood and Thunder (Fresh Sound New Talent). In a tray card photograph, we see the 30-year-old alto saxophonist drinking a glass of milk and looking about eighteen. Irwin's compositions and arrangements have a concomitant freshness about them, and resourcefulness. His writing tends to make his quintet sound bigger. There is no piano; Ben Monder's guitar has the chording assignment. Chris Cheek's tenor sax adds a third melody voice. Both solo with economy and plenty of unexpected turns, as does Irwin. Matt Clohesy is the bassist, Ferenc Nemeth the drummer.


These musicians are in the thick of New York's young experimental-cum-mainstream jazz population. Irwin, a product of the impressive DePaul University (Chicago) jazz program run by Bob Lark, has adapted to the yeasty Manhattan/Brooklyn scene. His title tune has an appropriately ominous caste amplified by the harmonies expressed and implied in the interaction of the saxophones and the guitar. The melody line and harmonies of the country-sounding “Back to You" might have been written by Hank Williams. Irwin doesn't unveil the melody of “From This Moment On" until the final chorus. The collective and individual improvisations in the first five minutes take full advantage of the basic, good-natured harmonies that helped make the song one of Cole Porter's biggest latterday successes.


The saxophones and the guitar intertwine on “Little Hurts," reacting to one another's ideas in a sort of musical basket weaving until Monder takes over for a solo that manages to incorporate force, restraint and premonitions of uncertainty that are not entirely resolved before the track ends. “Sprung" is a pointillist melodic exercise on the harmonic pattern of “It Might As Well Be Spring." Its good humor spills over into the solos. The Bill Evans waltz “Very Early" glides along in character with its composer's intentions and features a chorus of improvisation by Clohesy that helps bring home why he's being much discussed among his contemporaries. Irwin adds Eliza Cho's violin for the last track, “Until We Say Our Last Goodbye," a composition so like a classic standard song that it all but demands a lyric. The bloom of originality in Irwin's approach is fertizilized by his reach into the traditions of several branches of American music. If that becomes a trend among a young jazz generation that sometimes defeats itself by defying tradition, it can only benefit them and the music.

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This story appears courtesy of Rifftides by Doug Ramsey.
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