Review: Jon Irabagon "Invisible Horizon"

My first contact with the genius saxophone player, composer, educator, producer, bandleader, label-owner (Irabagast Records) and writer was during an interview I had years ago with Moppa Elliot, while they still toured together as “Mostly Other People Do The Killing”, this was in Groningen, The Netherlands, 2016. Just a year later I met Jon for “our” interview, while he was touring with Joe Fonda (double bass) and Barry Altschul (drums) as part of Barry Altschul’s 3Dom Factor.

As a leader Jon published really remarkable albums, just to mention “Dr. Quixotic’s Traveling Exotics” from 2018, with Tim Hagans, Luis Perdomo, Yasushi Nakamura and Rudy Royston.

In 2019 Jon gifted us with another fascinating album, which is thanks to him finally a double album with the title “Invisible Horizon” also on his own label Irabagast Records.

Jon Irabagon dedicated this very special album to Roscoe Mitchell, and for this work was mostly inspired by the superstitions and history of the ancient Far East game “mahjongg” and its guiding mystical aspects.

Jon Irabagon: Invisible Horizon. Artwork by Lordy Rodriguez.

The first album of these two (in one) has the title “Invisible Guests” and focuses on a six-movement suite for piano and string quartet, with introductory and closing tracks from the string quartet and Jon playing the sopranino saxophone. That album features Matt Mitchell on piano and the Mivos Quartet, one of the most active and cutting edge string quartets in America today.

The first piece is entitled “Vignette For Mouthpiece-Less Sopranino Saxophone And String Quartet”, really beautifully recorded as the whole album is, arranged and performed. It contains romantic elements as well as avantgarde aspects and textures, which is really refreshing today. And of course, this album is a Jon Irabagon one and contains really awesome mouthpiece-less sopranino explorations as well. In his solo album “Inaction Is An Action” from 2015, he gifted us already with first steps of his sopranino saxophone technique language. In this recent double album (Many thanks Jon!) he creates with these sounds and textures new enriching atmospheres, and then in co-creating richness with the string quartet’s body, vibrant and exploratory melodies.

Personal on this first cd:  Jon Irabagon – sopranino saxophone

Matt Mitchell – piano

Movos Quartet: Olivia de Prato + Lauren Cauley Kalal – violin

Victor Lowrie Tafoya – viola

Mariel Roberts – cello.

Recorded at Oktaven Studio, Mt. Vernon, NY, March 15, 2018.

The second album in this package is a live solo recording. “Dark Horizon: Live from the Mausoleum” features Jon on a rare Conn mezzo soprano saxophone in F, which was produced for only one year and a half in the late 1920’s. With this really seldom instrument he plays actually in a duo (not mentioned earlier) with the very special acoustic in the Emanuel Vigeland Mausoleum in Oslo, Norway. This ninety-five year old closed-off building creates a very fascinating nineteen-second reverb and is one of the best kept secrets of Oslo. Emanuel Vigeland (1875 – 1948) is one of Norway’s most respected artist and sculptor, his ashes remain in an urn above the entrance door of this sealed and windowless room, also called Tomba Emanuelle. The original windows were closed and filled in with granite, the walls with a huge fresco are coated with several layers of wax!

Jon Irabagon uses this natural immense reverb for performing with his mezzo soprano saxophone, to push, pull, work with and fighting against this acoustic. As on the first cd in this package, “Invisible Guests”, there are moments of both extreme beauty and other-worldly extended techniques. In this second album “Dark Horizon” Jon Irabagon refers towards the souls of instruments, about the personality of an instrument. And then to merge his with his own. His experience his that this really special instrument guides him much more than any other horn he use to play to new areas and horizons. Great to listen here to the impact such an acoustic can have on all his compositions and his fabulous way to express his breath, being one in a darkened space where the contact with his instrument and the space becomes a new extraordinaire reality, even it sounds dreamy, even it’s almost a rendevouz with Emanuel Vigeland, with another mostly untouched spiritual dimension.

For us listeners an escape door opens here! So please, use it carefully!

Dark Horizon: live from the Mausoleum.

Featuring Jon Irabagon – mezzo soprano saxophone.

Recorded at Tomba Emanuelle, Oslo, Norway, August 19, 2017.

Jon Irabagon. Copyright by Jon Irabagon.

Cover image: Copyright by Lordy Rodriguez.

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