Saxman Jon Irabagon Goes Metal On Your Ass, Avant Style
New York City saxophone pioneer Jon Irabagon -- award-winning composer, group leader and sideman -- is lounging around on the grimy, sticky couches at West Village jazz 'n' rec hangout Fat Cat, about to blow groovy horn action for swinging bop army Fat Cat Big Band. Irabagon is celebrating the fresh launch of his own label (Irabbagast Records), reveling in its release of the second Outright! record (the wildly adventurous quintet he fronts), just returned from playing gigs with intrepid ax goddess Mary Halvorson, and sometime next year, three(!) records from buddy Moppa Elliot's Mostly Other People Do The Killing will hit the streets via the Hot Cup label.
Pride, Barr, Irabagon: I Don't Hear Nothin' But the Blues (and the Metal)
But while Irabagon is naturally fired up on the goings on, his face lights up big time when talking about his label's inaugural release, courtesy of I Don't Hear Nothin' But The Blues. Originally a duo project with drummer extraordinaire Mike Pride (its debut released in 2009 by Loyal Label), the band has now morphed into trio status with the massacring addition of Orthrelm/Ocrilim/Krallice experi-metal klass-i-killing guitar overlord, Mick Barr. As a champion of abiding by an unconventional jazz trajectory, Irabagon happens to be way into the metal and has no qualms about fusing it into his aesthetic.
"What happened," as Irabagon explains it, "was the first Nothin' But The Blues record came out in 2009 and (music scribe/STATS drummer) Hank Shteamer wrote about it and he's like "People are comparing this to (Coltrane's) Interstellar Space but it's really not coming from there. To me, it's coming from Orthrelm's OV. At the time, I thought 'Man, how can this possibly sound like that?' So I went and got OV and it was like 'Holy crap! This is amazing!'" I definitely knew who Mick Barr and I knew that Orthrelm was one of his projects. But I hadn't really delved into it. But after that, I definitely go into that stuff. I was obsessed with Mick Barr and his solo projects."
While Pride and Barr had planned their own collaboration that never materialized, the opportunity needed to present itself in order for Don't Hear Nothin' But The Blues to welcome Barr into the fold. By stars-aligned type coincidence, that culminated at a festival in Germany. "Just by happenstance, the Moers Festival people booked Orthrelm and they booked them right after my trio (with legendary free jazz drummer Barry Altschul and bassist Peter Brendler). I think they were going for "the jazz versus metal nonstop in your face thing." So I got a chance to meet Mick and hang out with him there. Mike and Mick had met a long time ago and they had always talked about doing a project but never got a chance to do it. So, it just seemed like a perfect thing. A few months later, Mike and I had a duo gig at The Stone and we just said "Hey, let's just ask Mick to do this." It worked out and I recorded that show on my MP3 recorder and we loved it so much that we thought about releasing that. But then were like "Let's go into the studio and do it for real so we don't have a crappy sounding recording."
In furthering Irabagon's fledgling metal paradigm, that recording studio he, Pride and Barr invaded to put Volume 2: Appalachian Haze to tape happened to be Queens' godhead hub Menegroth/The Thousand Caves, where diverse records from Bushwick noise-rock duo XADDAX, Philly punk-jazz beast Many Arms and "No School" rap purveyors Talibam! were recorded. Owned and operated by the resident obliterator in math-metal wizards Dysrhthmia and Behold The Arctopus, Barr's band-mate in Krallice, recipient of NYC's Best Recording Studio honors and recent Voice feature star Colin Marston, it was Irabagon's first, and only, choice. "I had Colin master the Outright! record because I was so happy with the way the I Don't Hear Nothin' But The Blues record came out," he explains. "For my stuff in the future, I might keep trying to work with Colin because I relate to his aesthetic about certain things where it is in your face but it isn't necessarily compressed--he allows it to breathe. He's very malleable and he understands the circumstances of each different project."