I missed Jon Irabagon‘s lift-off last night at the Cornelia Street Cafe; I was down the street watching Joe Lovano, Butch Morris and Jimmy Heath get their copies of John Abbott & Bob Blumenthal‘s Saxophone Colossus signed by the book’s subject, Sonny Rollins. But I did catch an hour’s worth of the saxophonist’s flight, which was largely a careening spiel around “I Told Every Little Star” that managed to spill off into all sorts of other tuneful destinations. I only wish I had packed the 80-yr-old master into a cab and taken him to the gig with me. Irabagon was celebrating the release of his Newk nod, Foxy (Hot Cup), and he was rolling and tumbling with mucho alarm. The saxophonist’s trio – Barry Altschul on drums and Peter Brendler on bass – has a position it works from: jump in, get hot, don’t stop until quitting time.
The rhythmic hurtling that took place during the hour and ten minutes they rumbled together was an homage to the vitality that Rollins has always brought to the bandstand, and Irabagon’s personal whirlwind of melody celebrated the veteran horn player’s bounding imagination when it comes to improvising. The group’s extended roar was a reminder of how a blast of sound, especially a swinging blast of sound, can be its own metaphor for the fervor that a well-lived life is supposed to generate with some regularity – engaging, animated, provocative. (I’ve been getting something similar from Sleigh Bells‘ Treats of late as well.) The rhythm section threw lots of gas on the leader’s fire, especially the rambunctious splash of Altschul’s cymbal work. But it was Irabagon who fueled the action. The outcat antics tickled the packed house, and the sweet and sour moments were always in a balanced relationship. Like Rollins’ most freewheeling work, it wedded stamina with smarts and wound up being some of the most entertaining art I’ve been smacked around by all summer.
Hank Shteamer chatted with Irabagon regarding his numerous ensemble projects in Time Out. Nate Chinen was on the case at Cornelia (I love his use of the term “brutal interrogation”). Irabagon plays with Mostly Other People Do The Killing at Zebulon tonight, and duets with drummer Mike Pride at Zeb on Monday the 20th. Their I Don’t Hear Nothing But The Blues is a sweet sprawl, too.