Jon Irabagon

It Takes All Kinds
JazzWerkstatt JW 139

Assif Tsahar/Mark Dresser/Gerry Hemingway

Code Re(a)d

Hopscotch Records HOP48

Two youngish tenor saxophonists provide their own takes on the classic sax-double bass-drums formation with these discs attaining, but not surpassing, the praxis defined by progenitors like Sonny Rollins, Albert Ayler and Joe Henderson. Very much Free Jazz rather than Free Music, each CD has eight tracks and each is splendidly performed. The main demarcation is that Jon Irabagon’s It Takes All Kinds is a saxophone tour-de-force backed by a veteran rhythm section, whereas Code Re(a)d is more of a group effort with contributions from reedist Assif Tsahar, bassist Mark Dresser and percussionist Gerry Hemingway.

An Israeli, Tsahar spends a lot of time travelling internationally and has been affiliated with Americans such as bassist William Parker and multi-instrumentalist Cooper-Moore. Recorded in Tel Aviv, this CD finds Tsahar/Hemingway/Dresser working out strategies to shrewdly keep the connective pulse even as the narratives are deconstructed. Versatile, the saxophonist’s sometime indolent soloing melds tongue fluttering and glottal squeaks with Big Jay McNeely-like honks when in the foreground; but it’s just as efficient when he uses half-heard slurs to shadow the bassist’s koto-like strokes or the drummer’s rubs and rumbles. On “Resounding Reasoning” for instance, as Tsahar’s thick multiphonics extend further and further without breaking or losing innate swing, Dresser uses a walking bass line for balance.

Adding to the individuality are two bass clarinet interludes from Tsahar that show him concentrating on the instrument’s moderato, middle register as the others thump and pump. Most instructive is “(A)pplied Syntax” where Dresser’s spiccato slashes and pumps set up a supportive backing against which Tsahar lobs countless shattered notes. At times it appears as if he’s playing two saxes at once. There are similar suggestions when he switches to the tenor saxophone on “Divided Layers”, the live disc’s finale. Mellow wood shaking and strokes from the bassist plus relaxed rhythmic inserts from the drummer give the saxman all the space he needs. Tsahar reacts appropriately creating a reed essay that soars from mid-range to guttural swoops. It seems only appropriate that the tongue slurs which announce the time-stopping climax are coupled with subtle bass string clicks.

If Tsahar is an average musician who moves his playing in an arc from one to 10, then Irabagon is like the guitarist in Spinal Tap, always pushing his improvisations over-the-top into 11. With his own bands and with Other People Do the Killing, the saxophonist has demonstrated that he’s capable of figuratively amping his performances up to near excess. Here, the restrained vigor of bassist Mark Helias and drummer Barry Altschul keep the performances grounded.

Recorded live at a festival in Peitz, Germany, the saxophonist starts off with the ferocity of a hungry tiger suddenly let out of his cage, and his playing gets wilder and woollier as he proceeds. At the same time as his soloing is studded with multiphonic tricks, overblowing and prolonged excursions into all the horn’s registers, he’s never experimenting for the sake of experimenting or merely showing off. Discerning listeners can detect allusions to the playing of earlier saxophonists, especially Tenor Madness-era Rollins and a reliance on jerky, early Ornette Coleman-like heads. Altschul who has worked with many reed explorers, most notably Sam Rivers and Anthony Braxton, unblinkingly follows Irabagon’s sprints up and down his horn from shrill to mezzo to basso, spelunking rhythm foils for each instance. Some of Altschul’s individualized responses bring clanking cowbell and popping wood block into the mix. When not locked into place with the drummer to provide appropriate anchoring for the saxophonist’s almost endless variations, Helias’ percussive stops define the bottom on their own.

Irabagon’s indefatigable soloing is brought to a point of proper demarcation on tracks such as “Elusive”. That title may refer to the fact that Helias’ contrapuntal bowing takes on a faint Middle Eastern tinge. Or it may be related to how the reedist’s understated slithery textures vibrate with the same power he brings to full-frontal open horn attacks.

Like the narrative on Tsahar’s disc as well, this trio’s final “Pause and Flip” is a climatic summation of what has gone before. After the voluble bass-and-drum team slows down to regularize the initial bumpy Ornette-like head provided by Irabagon, the three confirm their close partnership by the end. Taking apart and reconstructing the narrative, they reach a fused level of bouncing, blowing and bowing with a high register reed squeak and cymbal crashes signaling the achieved finale.

Despite his acclaim Irabagon may still need a little tempering when he plays; while on the other hand Tsahar may find it necessary to play with a little more power. Still both CDs are notable affirmations of all that can be accomplished by a well-balanced trio of committed improvisers.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Takes: 1. Wherewithal 2. Vestiges 3. Quintessential Kitten 4. Elusive 5. Cutting Corners 6. Unconditional 7. Sunrise 8. Pause and Flip.

Personnel: Takes: Jon Irabagon: (tenor saxophone); Mark Helias (bass) and Barry Altschul (drums and percussion)

Track Listing: Code: 1. Comprehensive Passages 2. Oblique Interpretations 3. Deceptive Responses 4. Expanded Metaphors 5. Resounding Reasoning 6. Endangered Artifacts 7. (A)pplied Syntax 8. Divided Layers.

Personnel: Code: Assif Tsahar (tenor saxophone and bass clarinet); Mark Dresser (bass) and Gerry Hemingway (drums and percussion)