Saxophonist Jon Irabagon unleashes two albums in one day, with one succeeding in doing what the other one sets out to do.
Jazz music breeds workaholics and saxophonist Jon Irabagon isn't an exception. Whether he's acting as a bandleader or a sideman, he always seems to be staying active by keeping his name associated with top-shelf acts like Dave Douglas and Barry Altschul. So considering how busy Irabagon is, it seems entirely reasonable and well within his abilities to release two albums on the same day. Behind the Sky is acoustic quartet album, a very lengthy and touching display of original material. Inaction is an Action is Jon Irabagon's true "solo" album with nothing but him and his horn. As one would suspect, the two albums come from very different sources of inspiration, thereby achieving very different ends. For these reasons and potentially a multitude of others, you can't academically get away with ranking one over the other. You have to see which one strikes your gut the hardest.
The songs on Behind the Sky are meant to be the cathartic ones. On these eleven originals, Irabagon exorcises his feelings brought on by the recent passing of loved ones so that he and his band can sprawl them out as far as they can go. And when you're talking about the physical limitations of the compact disc, Behind the Sky just about reaches the limit at 76-plus minutes (which could explain the album's frequent use of fade-outs, a technique not commonly used in traditional jazz). The music doesn't sound like troubled soul-searching. It sounds like a sanctuary where feelings of loss can mutate into the stuff of a mellow groove. Pianist Luis Pedomo, bassist Yasushi Nakamura, and drummer Rudy Royston easily construct a smooth floor on which Irabagon can just glide away. Trumpeter Tom Harrell's name appears on the cover of the album, though it's to single him out as a guest performer on two rather easygoing numbers, "Still Water" and "Eternal Springs". The album's opener "One Wish" sounds like it could pass for a Thelonious Monk original, that's how easy everything rolls along.
While Behind the Sky aims for catharsis, Inaction is an Action actually achieves it. When the instrument falls into inappropriate hands, solo saxophone albums run the risk of being deathly boring. If you want a truely unique listening experience to flow from just one musician's horn through your speakers to your ears, you need to go to the Roscoe Mitchells or David S. Wares for optimum results. Fortunately Jon Irabagon is aware of this. Using his lack of knowledge of the sopranino saxophone to his advantage, he conjures forth sounds that would be downright alien on Behind the Sky. Naturally, Inaction is an Action is shorter -- 8 tracks in 38-plus minutes. "Revvv" sounds like he's trying to suck that last bits of Coke from the bottom of his cup through a straw. "What Have We Here" sounds like he steadily sawing wood. "Hang Out a Shingle" sounds like someone is being murdered by a French horn. "Liquid Fire" is probably the most outrageous use of flutter-tongue I've had the privilege of hearing. Other tracks like "The Best Kind of Sad" and "Ambiwinxtrous" may show off more standard styles of soloing, but they are the minority. Album closer "Alps" is like the sound of a digital double reed malfunctioning. Tremendous.
With one of these albums, Jon Irabagon gets to keep his name afloat among the young lions who deserve respect from their elders when it comes to composition and performance. With the other album, Jon Irabagon has pulled off something even rarer still. Or maybe I have it backwards. Either way you look at it, 2015 will go down as a very good year for Jon Irabagon.