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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, James Poore, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Bert Thompson, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf

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Behind The Sky

Irabbagast Records 004



  1. One Wish

  2. The Cost Of Modern Living

  3. Music Box Song (For When We're Apart)

  4. Still Water

  5. Obelisk

  6. Sprites

  7. Lost Ship At The Edge Of The Sea

  8. Mr. Dazzler

  9. Eternal Springs

  10. 100 Summers

  11. Behind The Sky (Hawks And Sparrows)

Jon Irabagon - Tenor sax, soprano sax

Tom Harrell -Trumpet, flugelhorn (tracks 4, 5, 9)

Luis Perdomo - Piano

Yasushi Nakamura - Bass

Rudy Royston - Drums

Jon Irabagon has found an intriguing concept for his eighth recording as a leader. The idea came about because of the recent deaths of loved ones or mentors close to the second generation Filipino-American saxophonist and composer, now in his mid-thirties. Since the late (and great) trumpet and flugelhorn player Kenny Wheeler is mentioned among the dedications, he would seem to be one of those who inspired Irabagon's music but who is now no longer with us. Basically, Irabagon has set out to explore the various dimensions of the experience of loss and of grieving, in these eleven original compositions from his own pen. He has already been recognised as a versatile and challenging musician over the past few years. In 2008, he was the winner of the Thelonious Monk Saxophone Competition and has subsequently been rated as Rising Star in alto and tenor sax categories by DownBeat Magazine. He is also an important member of the Dave Douglas Quintet. He is joined on three of the tracks on this album by the veteran trumpet and flugelhorn virtuoso Tom Harrell, who has appeared and recorded with big bands and small groups alike during a career spanning over fifty years, always with distinction. A highly proficient rhythm section complete the line-up.

Contrary to what the listener might expect, all the moods of the grieving process are to be found on this disc, celebration as much as mourning. The result is a varied and nourishing musical menu. Three tracks are particularly strong. Lost Ship At The Edge Of The Sea is a showcase for Irabagon and Luis Perdomo (also a Dave Douglas band member). Irabagon on soprano sax gives us a plaintive melody tinged with both recollection and sadness while Perdomo supplies a sympathetic accompaniment to his fellow musician. Mr. Dazzler is probably my favourite among those heard here because of the stylish solos from Irabagon on a bop-inspired tenor sax, Nakamura on bass and Perdomo, at his best, on piano. The latter reminded me of Kenny Barron, which is high praise. Eternal Springs features Tom Harrell and is the best of his three performances on the album, though his lucid solo on Still Water wasn't far behind. Jon Irabagon's soprano sax on the above-mentioned Eternal Springs suggested the influence of Wayne Shorter and I also liked the emphatic and fast paced solo from Perdomo.

Sprites conveys the debt owed to the rhythm section and its role as engine room for so much of what is happening (hear them again on Obelisk, where they provide a spirited background to Harrell and Irabagon). Nakamura really is an intelligent presence on bass, as can be heard on Music Box Song (For When We're Apart). The final track Behind The Sky is interesting, in that the recording has Irabagon playing tenor and soprano sax together. The interpretation he gives of this device is that 'The two voices symbolize yourself alongside the experiences with and love for the ones you've lost'. Whatever else, this is a bustling and swinging finale to the album. If you wish to hear Jon Irabagon at his most accessible, this is probably the disc.

James Poore

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