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Jon Irabagon: Rising Sun (Irabbagast)

A review of the tenor saxophonist's first album with Matt Mitchell, Chris Lightcap, and Dan Weiss

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Jon Irabagon: Rising Sun (Irabbagast)
The cover of Rising Sun by Jon Irabagon

Rising Sun marks the recording debut of Jon Irabagon’s new quartet. The tenor saxophonist is joined by three established leaders in their own right: Matt Mitchell (piano, Fender Rhodes), Chris Lightcap (bass), and Dan Weiss (drums). Guitarist Miles Okazaki and trumpeter Adam O’Farrill also sit in for two songs each. This high-caliber support system keeps up with Irabagon’s rapid-fire musical ideas and pushes him to greater improvisational heights at the same time. In this predominantly original set, the saxophonist comes up with works with multiple sections that feel immediately engaging without getting hung up on complexity.

Lightcap, who plays electric bass on all but one track, often has the task of holding things together as everyone around him lifts off. After helping to set a groove midway through “Mammoth,” he eventually joins Irabagon and O’Farrill in their blistering melody that cruises atop a 5/4 riff. Weiss often locks in with Lightcap, but he’s just as eager to emphasize offbeat accents or go against the grain.

Throughout, Irabagon enjoys taking liberties with roles of leadership. After the saxophonist issues an opening run of fleet wails and growls, Okazaki wrestles control of “Hoodootoo,” with a mass of lines that sound both agitated and clean, while the rhythm section slides off in several free directions. O’Farrill begins “Needles” implying some electric-Miles tones, aided largely by Mitchell’s Fender Rhodes and Lightcap’s fretwork. Mitchell uses both Rhodes and acoustic piano in the title track, a swirling blend of sections where the group, including Okazaki again, almost veers into Soft Machine territory.

In case Irabagon’s technique in a track like “Sundance” doesn’t offer enough proof, a two-minute run through Dizzy Gillespie’s “Bebop” reminds us that he has one of the most expansive vocabularies of any tenor saxophonist currently making waves.


Learn more about Rising Sun on Bandcamp

Jon Irabagon on Mahjong and Mezzo-Soprano Sax

Mike Shanley

Mike Shanley has been a lifelong resident of Pittsburgh and gladly welcomes any visitors to the city, most likely with a cup of coffee in one hand. Over the years, he has written for several alternative weekly papers and played bass guitar in several indie rock bands. He currently writes for the bi-weekly paper Pittsburgh Current and maintains a blog at