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06/21/12

Jerome Sabbagh
Plugged In
Bee Jazz

Single-disc jazz albums don’t often have 14 tracks, at least not in the case of new releases. But Plugged In, the latest from tenor saxophonist Jerome Sabbagh, a Frenchman based in Brooklyn, features seven of his compositions intermixed with seven by Belgian keyboardist Jozef Dumoulin. All but one of them last less than six minutes, and they set a mood or present an engaging melody in a manner that feels complete even when the track ends with little or no improvising.

Sabbagh, whose lengthy résumé includes time in bands led by Paul Motian and Ben Monder, knew Dumoulin only from his recordings prior to this collaboration. As creative forces they’re contrasting yet complementary. The tenor saxophonist boasts a commanding tone, whether the compositions call for strong dynamics or something more pensive. Dumoulin responds in kind with his Fender Rhodes, alternately digging in with the rhythm section (electric bassist Patrice Blanchard, drummer Rudy Royston) or getting a great overdriven sound during a solo that recalls the frenzy of electric Miles.

Likewise, their writing styles have different sensibilities. Sabbagh’s melodies immediately grab the ear and often include turns of phrase that evoke classics without simply imitating them. The initial chords of “Drive” sound like a bossa-nova version of “Maiden Voyage.” On the other hand, “Jeli” takes an African melody and gets plenty of energy from Blanchard’s percolating bass, and “Special K” has a beautiful bridge that comes out of nowhere. Dumoulin revels in creating rich moods and tonal colors. Two separate tracks last exactly 2:14, and both use that time wisely to make their point, one dark and drone-like, the other bright and hopeful. It’s hard to believe Plugged In isn’t the work of an established group that has honed this music extensively.

Originally published in June 2012
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