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Jon Irabagon’s Outright!: Unhinged

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Saxophonist Jon Irabagon isn’t content to put all his eggs in one stylistic basket. Upon winning the 2008 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition, this member of the irreverent quartet Mostly Other People Do the Killing released a fine straightahead album on Concord Jazz, The Observer. He went on to release fully improvised music with drummer Barry Altschul (Foxy), and he currently plays in Dave Douglas’ quintet, among other endeavors. Irabagon’s two new releases, on his own Irabbagast imprint, feature him on tenor saxophone exclusively and will likely continue to impress and puzzle anyone who has followed this gifted performer.

Unhinged marks Irabagon’s second release with his Outright! quintet, although the lineup has been revamped. The title refers to the diverse approach Irabagon brings to the music, and it fits. Three takes of the stop-start “Camp Douglas” all have a boppish approach, but each gets sprayed with different keyboard noise. “Lola Pastillas” feels like a tango which drummer Tom Rainey pulls apart during Ralph Alessi’s trumpet solo. The theme to “Silent Smile (Urban Love Song)” begins like a sweet ballad, but Irabagon the provocateur invites a 25-piece Outright! Jazz Orchestra to go wild on top of it. The result sounds busy and chaotic, to put it mildly, yet the foundation is never lost, which keeps the whole thing intriguing.

Speaking of intrigue, Irabagon also produces a 10-minute piece that sounds like a direct tribute to the John Coltrane Quartet, complete with a rubato intro and emotional theme. But he calls it “Take Five” and gives Paul Desmond credit. That song’s famous vamp is nowhere to be found. Bits of the theme might float to the surface, but it’s better to just enjoy the performance than look for touchstones.

The first volume of I Don’t Hear Nothin’ But the Blues came out in 2009 and featured one long track of Irabagon and drummer Mike Pride riding free. For the new installment, the duo invited avant-garde metal guitarist Mick Barr to join them. For 47 minutes the trio plays non-stop, without regard for time or, in the case of Barr, any type of communication with his collaborators. While Pride splatters over his drum kit, alternately adding color to or changing the shape of the proceedings behind the duo, Barr wails frantically with very little depth. He begins with surging feedback like that of Jimi Hendrix’s opening in “Foxy Lady,” and not until the 32-minute mark does he show any sign of calming down or shifting gears. When he does, it lasts only a few minutes before he’s frantic again. Irabagon sounds inspired most of the time, mixing Ayler-esque growls and tripped up lines, but he gets lost under all the guitar noise. Free guitar playing by the likes of Derek Bailey can get abrasive in its own noisy way, but Barr’s one-dimensional performance can be best summed up with vernacular used in the metal camp: wanking.

Originally Published