Jon Irabagon trio – It Takes All Kinds
(Irabbagast Records/Jazzwerkstatt JW 139. CD Review by Jon Turney)
Jon Irabagon’s playing invariably evokes reviewers’ mentions of just about every saxophonist you can think of. Close attention to this live set shows why. The opening track Wherewithal has moments sounding uncannily like Air-vintage Henry Threadgill – the higher reaches of Irabagon’s tenor summoning Threadgill’s pleasantly astringent alto. Then comes a riff-based excursion on Vestiges that echoes fellow Chicagoan Fred Anderson, while the long Quintessential Kitten hedges its bets with an opening cadenza taking its cues mostly from Rollins, and one at the close from Evan Parker.
A stylistic magpie, then? Well, he is, but to good purpose. This is an immensely enjoyable recording for anyone with ears for forceful, thoughtful, collaborative music that combines written frames with the mutual surprises of the moment that trio music at its best produces. The references to a myriad of other saxophone trios are a bonus for those who care, but incidental to the main business. Although the themes, all by Irabagon, are written, this is perhaps closest in spirit to the old co-operative threesome of Sam Rivers, Dave Holland and the drummer here, Barry Altschul, whose performances were wholly improvised. The quality they share is the ability for all three to shift direction in an instant, developing a thought that one suddenly articulates. It’s the kind of spontaneity that sounds planned on the playback.
Multi-reedist Irabagon, in his mid-thirties now, is probably best known for his work with his contemporaries in the uproarious post-Ornette quartet Mostly Other People Do the Killing and, more recently, with trumpeter Dave Douglas. Here, he sticks to tenor throughout, in a multi-generational trio that also harks back to a great recording he found inspiring in high-school – Holland’s Conference of the Birds from 1972, which featured Altschul and Rivers along with Anthony Braxton. Bassist Mark Helias doesn’t go quite as far back as the drummer, but has worked with him extensively and they mesh as well as, say, William Parker and Hamid Drake.
The CD’s sequence sounds like a continuous performance, captured at a gig at the Peitz Festival in Germany last year, and one marvels at the sustained level of invention. The whole thing is so good it is hard to isolate standout moments, although the Arabic strain of the sax on Unconditional and the unaccompanied bass intro to the tranquil Sunrise both qualify.
Also notable is the way Altschul’s astonishing contribution is captured in such detail. A live set from the reunited Altschul, Holland, Rivers trio appeared on CD a little while back, held over from 2007 partly because the drummer wasn’t entirely happy with the recording. Sounded OK to me, and it was a magnificent set of performances, but you can hear the difference here. Every now and again, Altschul simply keeps time, but mostly he is doing something much more sumptuous, almost orchestral. HIs hyperkinetic responsiveness at every moment marks one of the great percussion masters of the last half century.
All in all, one of those live recordings that makes you really wish you had been at the gig. The trio is set to tour Europe in the Autumn – and I’m hoping they can find a date or three in the UK. This’ll do nicely for now though.