Label: Irabbagast Records, 2019
Personnel - Jon Irabagon: sopranino; Matt Mitchell: piano + Mivos Quartet: Olivia de Prato: violin; Lauren Cauley Kalal: violin; Victor Lowrie Tafoya: viola; Mariel Roberts: cello.
Invisible Horizon, the 11th album as a leader from Jon Irabagon is not like anything you’ve heard him playing before. The saxophonist, a mastermind of contemporary jazz, has been consistently at the front of the creative pack that populates the current scene, and now presents us one of his boldest releases, a two-CD set split between a six-movement suite for piano and string quartet (bookended by two pieces for strings and sopranino) and an incredible solo mezzo soprano session recorded at the Emanuel Vigelund Mausoleum in Oslo.
On the first album, Invisible Guests, Irabagon is showcased with the Mivos Quartet and the sought-after pianist Matt Mitchell. The powerful ensemble is assigned with the complex task of executing rarely heard arrangements. The disc opens and closes with two vignettes for mouthpieceless sopranino and string quartet where the bandleader takes his instrument to extremes, pulling out a panoply of odd sounds through extended techniques and exploring pitch gradation with ferocity and virtue. The synchronism with the strings is phenomenal and the final rasping resonances help to create an impactful cinematic impression that is worthy of a horror film, whether classic or not.
Operating under strong classical and avant-garde spells, the suite feels like a mordant chamber essay with each dynamic movement incorporating several other movements inside. Matt Mitchell’s miraculous pianism works like magic within the aesthetic as he embarks on disconcerting, punchy, and often dancing motions set against the scintillating string charts. His introductory segment on the “Movement 2: Heaven’s Blessing” is beautiful, and the quintet gives it a logic sequence through stunning counterpoint, impenetrable textures with variable concentrations of sound, and animated sections with discernible rhythmic sequences.
Upon probing intensities with spirit and poise, “Movement 4: Red Four” gently embraces Argentine tango with an elegance that is also partly found on “Movement 6: The Dreamer”, which encloses both seriously deep and light, fluid passages.
Disc two, Dark Horizon: Live From the Mausoleum, features Irabagon alone on the Conn mezzo soprano saxophone. The production of this instrument only lasted for one year and a half in the late 20s. The conspicuous reverb effect is naturally created by the aforementioned mausoleum where the album was recorded, and the sound produced never ceases to amaze.
“Dark Horizon (entrance)” is an incantatory marvel that inundates the place with a mix of calm introspection and ardent spirituality. Its tones nothing have to do with pieces like “Forest & Field” and “Eternal Rest”, shapeless abstractions subjected to eerie contortions, or even “Half a World Away”, a chilly messenger of piercing, honking, and buzzing reverberations.
“Dragonwort” opts for some Celtic emphasis during the circular breathing; “Holy Smoke” lives from the vivid articulacy and extended techniques subjected to a riff; and Leroy Shield’s “Good Old Days”, the theme song from The Little Rascals and the sole non-original to be included, is creatively taken to another dimension.
Anything but conventional, Invisible Horizon is never short of ideas and leaves a lasting impression, reaffirming Irabagon as a visionary composer and one of the most influential musicians of our times.
03 (CD1) - Heaven’s Blessing ► 04 (CD1) - Red Four ► 01 (CD2) - Dark Horizon (entrance)