Jon Irabagon

Bird with Streams
Irabagon Records 019

Jon Raskin

Book ‘P’ of “Practitioners” By Steve Lacy

Temescaal Records No #

With solo saxophone session no longer unusual, two American reedists whose first name is Jon take their singular contributions one step further by consecrating an entire CD to the compositions of one crucial Jazz saxophonist. But that’s where the discs diverge. A Bay-area studio session by Rova quartet baritone saxophonist Jon Raskin, Book ‘P’ features his interpretation of six compositions by soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy. Making the most of his family’s pandemic-avoiding exile from New York to South Dakota, tenor saxophonist Jon Irabagon plays 15 of alto saxophonist Charlie Parker’s lines outdoors in Falling Rock canyon. Both albums contain unexpected surprises.

Making the most of transposing Lacy’s tunes to the larger horn, Raskin also cannily changes the speed, pitch and technical affiliation of each as he works through them. Mostly he maintains a distinctive galloping gait with his horn’s as well as emphasizing the melodic architecture and recapping the heads. Though he makes good use of the baritone’s sub-basement-like rumble, his key vibrations and spurts of altissimo echoes and looped swirls affect the saxophone’s entire range. Layering low-pitched snarls and snuffles, drier moderated development and strangled cries he moves logically through the performances. With squibs and spurts of extended techniques he also maintains logical and sometimes mellow structures. An example of this, oddly enough is “Penguin - To Vladimir Horowitz”, with its super-speedy introduction that soon turns to a mid-tempo ramble. The emphasized note patterns alternating high and low tones, invest the entire piece with a jumping jollity. Another instance of this is “Platypus - To Elvin Jones”, which like the preceding dedicated tune oddly takes on first hornpipe than rondo characteristics. The track accelerates from inner body cries; tongue slaps and squeaks to circling swelling and swilling timbres to a defining low-pitched reed-stuttering coda.

Raskin deals with a repertoire that’s unfamiliar to many, but Irabagon has a tougher task. While some of the pieces on Bird with Streams are obscure many have been part of the standard Jazz fake book at least since the 1940s. His solution to this is straightforward if not straight ahead. While not neglecting the obvious swing and Blues inferences in many of the tunes he uses extended techniques, countermelodies, and tonal separation to redefine compositions and maintain decisive motion. Most of the time the familiar melodies are dissected after the head is played and not returned to, if at all, until the finale. The outdoor location helps since timbres sound differently there. Although he forgoes slides into New Age or ambient nature sounds, bird songs, wind wisps, water pooling and falling rain is sometimes heard.

The treatment of “Bebop” for example adds hide-and-seek diversions to the theme, with the head recapped for dramatic effect following a few pauses. In the same way “Hot House” is played much slower than usual, in a taffy-pull-like stretch, with emotion offset by goose-crying variations until reaching a slurred mellow ending. Even “Moose the Mooche” which trots along with the familiar head is broken into melody molecules. Less familiar tunes are recast with fewer comparisons. “Segment” for example builds up to strangled notes and suckling cries pulled from the horn, but begins with a fluttering hard and heavy head. Likewise “Mohawk” disintegrates into spittle-encrusted reed burbling, although it’s introduced with metal clipping percussion following a wounded cow-like bellow from the bottom of the horn.

Overall, in spite – or maybe because – of the dissections and diversions, Irabagon manages to link landscape reproduction to saxophone tune regeneration to create a linear and organic whole. It may frighten Bebop purists but can he followed with interest to those less tradition bound. As for Raskin, by using another saxophone and another way of playing Lacy’s songbook, he’s made sure that compositions like these can enter the wider Jazz/improvised music gestalt.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Book: 1. Peacock - To ‘Bud’ Freeman 2. Pelican - To ‘Buck’ Clayton 3. Penguin - To Vladimir Horowitz 4. Platypus - To Elvin Jones 5. Porcupine - To Serge Diaghilev 6. Pterodactyl - To ‘Cat’ Anderson.

Personnel: Book: Jon Raskin (baritone saxophone)

Track Listing: Bird: 1. Anthropology 2. Sippin’ at Bells 3. Bebop 4. Ornithology 5. Now’s the Time 6. Donna Lee 7. Hot House 8. B. Schwifty 9. Mohawk 10. KC Blues 11. Get Schwifty 12. Segment 13. Moose the Mooche 14. Blues for Alice 15. Quasimodo

Personnel: Bird: Jon Irabagon (tenor saxophone)