Jon Irabagon - The Observer

album review

Concord Jazz

Release date: October 20th 2009

Recorded at the Van Gelder Recording Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, on May 19th - 22nd, 2009

Availability: CD, MP3 Download

 Jon Irabagon: The Observer cover

Appearing in and winning the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition in 1991 launched the career of Joshua Redman. Over the years, many other entrants who have won one of the top three places in the Competition have gone on to successful careers (Ryan Kisor, Chris Potter, Eric Alexander, Jorge Rossy, Peter Martin, Edward Simon, Jesse Van Ruller, Jimmy Greene, Avishai Cohen, Orrin Evans, Sam Yahell, Seamus Blake, Marcus Strickland, Lage Lund and Aaron Parks, to name a few). So there is understandable interest in alto sax player Jon Irabagon, winner of the 2008 Competition.

One outcome is this album, 'The Observer', produced by Don Sickler, recorded at the Van Gelder Studio at Englewood Cliffs, NJ, engineered and mixed by Rudy himself and placing the newcomer in a quartet setting of real quality (Kenny Barron, piano; Rufus Reid, bass; Victor Lewis, drums). Trumpeter Nicholas Payton joins the band on two tracks and Bertha Hope sits in for Kenny Barron on one track. Interestingly, Jon Irabagon plays tenor sax on two of the most successful cuts (the title track and 'Maicai and Tacomoa').

It is a confident major label debut in every respect. All but three of the ten tracks (Gigi Gryce's 'The Infant's Song', Tom McIntosh's 'Cup Bearers;' and Elmo Hope's 'Barfly') are original compositions by the leader. His writing shows range and originality.

The two tracks featuring tenor sax are clear standouts on the album, prompting the observation that, despite winning the Thelonious Monk Competition on alto, Jon Irabagon may have an equally bright future on this instrument. 'Maicai and Tacomoa' shows fine improvisation on top of complex latin influenced beats (and fine piano soloing from Kenny Barron) while the more straight ahead 'The Observer' has all the control and melodic invention of Eric Alexander.

'Big Jim's Twins', one of the tracks on which Nicholas Payton joins on trumpet, is another standout, not just for his fine playing but for the added dimension of the quintet format that allows Jon Irabagon to achieve greater fluency on alto.

'Acceptance', the most successful of the alto sax quartet pieces, delivers soaring, flowing playing with fine control of the upper registers of the instrument and fine bass accompaniment from Rufus Reid.

Overall, a very strong major label debut of a musician and composer of emerging talent.

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