Clearly, saxophonist Jon Irabagon is gunning for the big time. On The Observer, recorded by Rudy Van Gelder, he fronts a band consisting of drummer Victor Lewis, bassist Rufus Reid, and pianist Kenny Barron (along with a smattering of guests), and it is to his credit that Irabagon holds his own in the fastest of fast company. Irabagon’s tone is a thing of beauty—approaching the cool remove of Paul Desmond’s “dry martini” sound but not above signs of sweat or passion like the overblown notes in “Cup Bearers”. Despite the traditional quartet setup, The Observer has a contemporary feel. Take, for example, the unsettled rhythmic tension of “Joy’s Secret” or the knotty modal chords of the opening track, “January Dream”—these are sounds with some clear predecessors (McCoy Tyner, some of ECM’s more conventional fare), but here, they feel unique and original. Overall, it’s hip, refined mainstream jazz, original but accessible. The big time awaits.
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