Reviews

Silent Fires - Forests

A while ago I received a very nice message from the pianist, composer, bandleader, producer and educator Alessandro Sgobbio (IT), announcing his new release “Forests” with his Oslo (NOR) based quartet called “Silent Fires”.

Alessandro is a Master of Music since his graduation at the Norwegian Academy of Music in Oslo, he has released 10 albums as a leader, co-leader, composer, pianist and producer and he tours regularly Europe, China and the United States.

His recent project with “Silent Fires” has been released by AMP Music & Records in December 2019 and is a collective exploration around the theme Spirituality in its multiple meanings.

Alessandro Sgobbio: “During this two-year compositional process, I've received many precious advices by composer and pianist Misha Alperin, with whom I had the opportunity and the honor to study at the Academy“.

With Karoline Wallace (vocals), Hilde Marie Holson (trumpet + effects), Håkon Aase (violin) and Alessandro Sgobbio (piano + compositions) this band reunites four young emerging talents from the European Improvised Music scene. They describe their sound as a “cross-genre intermixture of lyrics and acoustic-electronic fragments – merged into written and improvised soundscapes”.

Silent Fires. From the left to right: Håkon Aase, Hilde Marie Holsen, Karoline Wallace and Alessandro Sgobbio. Picture Copyright by Jeff Sales.

Alessandro Sgobbio: “The band-sound is closely related to the lyrics (in various forms inspired by the theme of spirituality). For the first time, I have also written some original texts“.

On stage “Silent Fires” perform and improvise with contemporary dancer Synne Garvik.

Alessandro Sgobbio: “My primary idea was to write a new repertoire around the theme of spirituality - a sort of collection of 'contemporary prayers' which could hopefully suggest spaces of meditation.
The composition process focused mainly on creating essential and repeated melodic units - counterbalanced by compositions with more structured arrangements. Each score rarely exceeds the single page, almost as if it suggests a direct immersion into sound and music“.

“Forests” is an album with 11 songs on 41 minutes and 3 seconds to let the listener enter a new fascinating sound universe. My first contact with this album I realized a huge connection with the for myself very familiar sound of ECM Records, since the 70s created by Norwegian sound engineer Jan Erik Kongshaug in the Rainbow Studio in Oslo, as a team with producer Manfred Eicher.

This feeling of space I hear on “Forests” is so enormously, the transparency of the recorded sound and music is just very much relaxing as also ongoing inspiring.

Spoken words, whispered words, words connected with melodies, sounds created by acoustic instruments plus beautifully selected electronic effects are the ingredients here. These eleven sound explorations contain lyrics of poets such as Maya Angelou, William Butler Yeats, Alessandro Sgobbio, René Guénon and the Coptic Gospel of the Egyptians.

One really special and fascinating atmosphere on this album is space. Wherever I listen, wherever I put my attention, there is always space, almost infinite in its quality. Which generates at least for me another amazing ingredient which is Silence. Both the Space and the Silence do offer me the gift to become one with what Alessandro mentioned earlier: “a space for meditation”. When Sound as on this album especially has such a huge quality, to open the listeners inner space and power of imagination, then of course I need to mention this.

With this music you do not only listen, you see! These poetic jewelry is highly warm, transparent, sensitive and works as a huge opener to any inner portal, any inner resonating chamber with clarity. For me as the listener this is a quality I highly appreciate! This is cinema for ears and souls!

And you become never tired, there is no rush for anything. The invitation is to stay. These images are never too much, they please with space, time, silence and beautiful options for endless inner exploration.

Thank you dear Alessandro Sgobbio and “Silent Fires” for this huge gift!

Copyright of this image by Alexander Semenov.

Cover image by Alexander Semenov.

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.

Many thanks to Jon Irabagon!

Nicky Barbato "50 Dollar Chevy"

Nicky Barbato / "50 Dollar Chevy", from the album "Every Day Is A Bad Hair Day".

"50 Dollar Chevy", a tune composed and performed by Telecaster guitar lover, performer, bandleader, educator and composer Nicky Barbato from Queens, NYC. His debut album, under the name of the "Nicky Barbato Project", is produced by Saxophone legend/hero/extraordinaire Jon Irabagon in a very creative and wild-fun production-way. Title of his debut is: "Every Day Is A Bad Hair Day".
I got a hint from my TwoForTheShowMedia friend Chris DiGirolamo for giving it a check. Then I was so much surprised about this fantastic energy and indeed funny and extremely creative way, that I decided to share this!
"50 Dollar Chevy", in this following video recorded already in late 2016, grabs and hits in astonishing ways, like all the album does! What a joy!

Nicky Barbato studied at the Berklee College of Music in Boston and at the New York University and received there an award for Outstanding Potential in the Field of Music Education. Even in his earlier years he played at New York venues such as The Bitter End and the Knitting Factory. The Nicky Barbato Project features: Tony Mason (drums), Jon Irabagon (saxophone), Chris Anderson (bass) and Nicky Barbato on the Telecaster electric guitar. I hope, all  this information is right. But what I know is for sure: this is just great surprising music!

The "Every Day Is A Bad Hair Day" release  show will take place at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2 on Saturday, March  23rd 2019. Still time to check his music and get a ticket!

The Nicky Barbato Project is a very dynamic (almost) instrumental group, that combines surf guitar, pedal steel twang, 1960s film score soundscapes, jazz harmonies, retro pop melody universes and psychedelic rock. The core band consists of Tony Mason (drums), Jon Irabagon (sax), Chris Anderson (bass) and Nicky Barbato (electric telecaster guitar).

From the left: Chris Anderson, Nicky Barbato, Tony Mason. Picture by Jack Hoffman.

Album Cover by Sarah Snow.

Many thanks to Nicky Barbato, Jon Irabagon and Two for the Show Media!