Jon Irabagon, The Stone Residency This Week

A nightly string of various ensemble configurations probably seems like a just another normal week for Jon Irabagon. The saxophonist’s wide-angle approach to bandleading has defined his work in the last decade, and from straight-ahead swing to solo abstraction to wind and string quartets to Moondog tributes to metal-tinged blues excursions to aggro freebop, the 40-something virtuoso makes his appetite for diversity a just another commonplace of life. The fruits of a curious mind and ambitious work ethic are simply routine parts of his diet. For open-minded fans of improv that means plenty of goosebumps. When matched with his well-documented horn skills, Irabagon’s probing usually results in some delightful  juxtapositions. The pieces on his Quartet’s Dr. Quixotic’s Traveling Exotics bend rules left and right, the new contours offering refreshing vistas while still be legible as a modern offshoot of a recognizable approach (check “Pretty Like North Dakota”). When he takes over The Stone this week – starting tonight and rolling through Saturday – he puts his omni aesthetic center stage. The kickoff group’s name is telling: Barry Altschul’s 3Dom Factor meets the Jon Irabagon Trio plus 2 equals 6. It’s an unholy blend inventive players – including Tim Hagans, Mark Helias, Uri Caine and Joe Fonda – helping the leader find accord between all the possibilities in his head. Irabagon – clocking discoveries and rolling forward, NBD. Orthodox, he ain’t.


February 25: Jon Irabagon/Barry Altschul/Joe Fonda/Uri Caine/Tim Hagans

February 26: I Don’t Hear Nothin’ but the Blues CD Release show featuring Mick Barr, Ava Mendoza and Mike Pride

February 27: Jon Irabagon/Brian Marsella duo

February 28: Jon Irabagon/Matt Mitchell/Chris Lightcap/Dan Weiss

February 29: New piece for woodwind quintet featuring Michel Gentile/Katie Scheele/Mike McGinnis/Nathan Koci/Sara Schoenbeck

The Stone  13th St. and 6th Ave. in Manhattan.  Each night is one set at 8:30 pm. $20.

Irabagon Bandcamp

Branford Marsalis Quartet At Rose Theater This Friday and Saturday

I shared the video above, the Branford Marsalis Quartet rollin through Andrew Hill’s “Snake Hip Waltz” (from the maestro’s Divine Revelation album) on Facebook when it premiered in January of 2019. It was a preview of the band’s then-upcoming disc, The Secret Between the Shadow and the Soul, which arrived on March 1 and walked away with LOTS of kudos from the music press at the end of the year. At least three non-jazz pals saw it on FB and mentioned how much they liked it. Non-jazz pals don’t usually say much about the nuggets that dot my wall, but the veteran saxophonist’s well-rounded approach to bandleading and album making has long had a canny way of impressing virgin ears. You don’t need to be an improv insider to get off on Team Marsalis, because the legibility of their art music has plenty of old fashioned charisma. The thoughtful blend of  drama, elation, anguish and bounce is powerful catnip to any listener who expects a spectrum of emotions to lift a successful presentation. Each of the members – bassist Eric Revis,  pianist Joey Calderazzo, and drummer Justin Faulkner – has plenty of say in sculpting this enviable whole. Their chemistry is a blend of charm, chops and camaraderie, and the most entertaining part of their deal is the way they make their epic interaction seem so natural. The mechanics are in plain sight, but they never take center stage. To some degree, a typical hit by the Marsalis foursome sounds like a gaggle of old pals shootin’ the shit. The guys recognize it, too. They named their 2012 date Four MFs Playin’ Tunes.

Last summer Branford told JazzTimes he chose “Snake Hip Waltz,” a Revis suggestion, because their book could always use another “happy” song. The Secret Between the Shadow and the Soul has its share of melancholy excursions, however. Both “Conversation Among the Ruins” and “Life Filtering From the Water Flowers” are moving ballads, flecked with the kind of contours designed to reveal insights into life’s wistful side. But after almost a year of absorbing its riches, my take-away has more to do with the capering that simmers beneath the band’s signature tumult. After 20 years together (Faulkner joined a decade or so ago), the triumphs they attain with regularity are as frenetic as they are substantial. Fans who’ve seen them surf the turbulence of “Whiplash” or “The Windup” know how rollicking they can be. When they take the Jazz at Lincoln Center stage for a couple nights of sleek acrobatics, the audience – improv insiders or no – should fully grok that feats of daring that are their stock in trade.

Marsalis Quartet this Friday and Saturday nights at Jazz at Lincoln Center  Tickets!

Branford Marsalis 

Thank You, Jon Christensen

Read a bunch of JC obits at once and got sad. Never got to see him. But the takeaway from the vid above and the streams below is super evident. Dude was all about versatility and reach.

We’re so lucky to catch all the strong improvisers around us in New York.



David Berkman Trio Tonight in Brooklyn

Jazz improv is often about forging new routes through a melodic maze, and during the last couple decades David Berkman has dedicated himself to the swinging side of the equation (key album title: Start Here, Finish There). The pianist enjoys ironing out a tune’s wrinkles as well as wrinkling up a few things himself, and he’s got several ways of rendering creative tension. Flexibility is a forte, so whether embracing dissonance to keep his team on its toes or milking counterpoint to underscore the zest of a performance, his bands often reveal how the modern jazz mainstream is proud of its leftie forebears. Tonight’s trio hit with bassist Tony Scherr and drummer Billy Mintz should be a enjoyable lesson in give and take.

Soapbox Gallery 636 Dean Street Brooklyn

Sets at 8 & 10 pm.

Suggested Donation $20, $10 for students.

Frank Zappa: The Hot Rats Sessions (Zappa Records)

Focus wasn’t Frank Zappa’s strong suit. When the early records by the Mothers of Invention hit in the mid-’60s, they deployed a parade of diverse ideas. Mock pop, percussion romps, R&B bubblegum, theatrical satire, musique concrète, oddball skronk—from Freak Out! to Uncle Meat, pastiche was paramount. So when Hot Rats arrived in the fall of ’69, months after the Mothers had folded, its five instrumental tunes and one vocal track were viewed as a balm to those bewildered by the renegade auteur’s sound spectrum. The music was enterprising, but comparatively unified. Celebrating the golden anniversary of Zappa’s revered solo debut (or second solo outing if you count the Mothers-laden side project, Lumpy Gravy), this six-CD boxed set of outtakes, rehearsals, and miscellany delivers more than seven hours’ worth of tangents the bandleader concocted while honing his 43-minute opus.

Getting a proper feel from the new musicians seems paramount in these sessions. Zappa is heard guiding drummer John Guerin and bassist Max Bennett on both groove and density during the blossoming of “It Must Be a Camel” (citing the attack of certain percussion fills, he urges Guerin to “destroy the mood completely, okay?”). At one point during a jazzy ballad called “Transition,” he nudges the squad to be a bit less “lumpy.” As zealots know from that work’s final form—“Twenty Small Cigars” from the Hot Rats followup Chunga’s Revenge—the sought-after grace was ultimately achieved.

Like most packages spotlighting rehearsals, a balance of revelation and tedium is in play as the refinements unfold. Zappa’s an inventive guitarist, so it’s thrilling to hear him unload a storm of ideas during extended solos. In cahoots with electric violinist Sugarcane Harris, and backed by a trio of ex-Mothers, “Another Waltz” reminds us of his interest in fierce expressionism. But there are moments during the half-hour romp of “Big Legs” where, funk frenzy or no funk frenzy, things seem extraneous. Happily, editing is a Zappa forte, and cut in half for its album appearance as “The Gumbo Variations,” the final track’s gnarled eloquence is nothing short of ferocious.

Speaking of ferocious, clocking the iterations of “Willie the Pimp” has its thrills. Tack piano, wah-wah fiddle, bump ’n’ grind vamps—even without Captain Beefheart’s nasty-ass growl slapped on, the music is greasy enough to ably suit its subject. But perhaps the most goosebumps come from witnessing “Peaches en Regalia” in development. A solo piano sketch by Ian Underwood underscores its charms, and morphing toward completion, the band twists things in numerous ways, from swaggering organ ditty to hopped-up gospel jam with Johnny Otis on piano and Shuggie Otis on bass. “Peaches” is a Zappa signature tune, and it’s fascinating to hear what he deemed a “rock ’n’ roll concerto” being sculpted by this crew.

The set’s remaining smorgasbord—Beefheart’s isolated “Pimp” vocals, ancient radio ads, guitar refractions of “Arabesque,” an ancient horn version of “Little Umbrellas,” and the interview bite where FZ ’splains how he came up with the album title (jazzers will need to search Archie Shepp’s Life at the Donaueschingen Music Festival for full appreciation)—compounds the contextual kicks. It’s overwhelming on a few levels, but as a ride through the maestro’s brain during one of his most fruitful phases, The Hot Rats Sessions is a hoot.

More at

Zappa Records

Hot Rats Photo Book 

Photographer Bill Gubbins turned his zealotry for Zappa and the Mothers into a cross-country journey that wound up with him making lots of candid images during the Hot Rats sessions in LA. The hard-cover book, with an extensive explanatory interview of Gubbins by Ahmet Zappa, is a revealing item, a great way to enhance the listening experience of the Sessions box, full of contextual details and fun anecdotes.

Carla Bley/Steve Swallow/Andy Sheppard Life Goes On (ECM)


carla bley

The endless staircases of M.C. Escher’s castles don’t demand a soundtrack to be appreciated, but if you bask in Carla Bley’s “Copycat” while absorbing a few of the Dutch artist’s impossible labyrinths, you might be in for extra fun. One of Life Goes On’s three micro suites, Bley’s piece arrives with a process mandate: each line of the group’s performance should be an echo or variation of the preceding line. That leads to a wonderfully fluid symmetry. The choices pour forth, pensively at first, and then puckishly, as often is the esteemed composer’s wont. The fourth album in a quarter century’s worth of collabs by the buoyant trio of the pianist, bassist Steve Swallow and saxophonist Andy Sheppard, Life Goes On teems with the kind of balance that has marked their previous discs, but it also boasts an extra dose of eloquence.

Though I’m still citing the band’s masterpiece as 2013’s “Utviklingssang” (as finely cut a jewel as the MJQ’s “Django”), the level of detail at work on this latest disc is unmistakable. “Beautiful Telephones,” the pianist’s gibe at 45’s cluckish oogling of the Oval Office’s squawkbox  glows with the ominous tone of an etude penned by Bernard Hermann. Bley knows we’re in deep shit these days, so her allusion to Chopin’s “Funeral March,” along with wry references to “It’s a Grand Old Flag,” “Yankee Doodle” and other American chestnuts indicts us all for allowing Trumpian freedom to ring. As each passage inches forward, Sheppard’s concise moves match Swallow’s plush choices. The group’s chemistry is ultra refined at this late date; the carefully calibrated sharing of duties brings brings a quizzical serenity to this improv-slanted chamber music. Bley has told interviewers she’d like be writing for a big band, but current economics demand a more scaled-down stance. No worries. The 81-year-old’s trademark humor still gets its moments in the sun. For example: “Copycat” ends a 15-minute-long parade of slippery trade-offs with a curt three-note phrase that finds each musician in perfect accord. Same place, same time, at last. Feel free to plop your grinning-face emoji right there.

Carla Bley

Andy Sheppard

ECM – Andy Sheppard

ECM – Carla Bley

ECM – Steve Swallow

Conversations With Carla

Klem’s Back Yard